How to Read a Great Migration Sketch

This Great Migration Study Project consists of sketches of families or unattached individuals who came to New England between 1620 and 1643. Each sketch follows a regular format, which is described below in more detail in the section titled KEY TO SKETCH HEADINGS. Every statement in each sketch is supported by citation to a document. Most of the citations appear in an abbreviated form, the abbreviations being expanded in the section entitled KEY TO TITLES.

Two additional conventions employed in these sketches will help the reader navigate from sketch to sketch:

  • When a name is given all in capital letters, this means that that person came to New England during the Great Migration (1620-1643), and is, or will be, the subject of a sketch elsewhere in the Great Migration volumes. If the sketch for that person has not already been created, the name will be followed by a year and a place, indicating the known or estimated year of migration, and the first residence in New England. If a sketch for this person has already been published in the Great Migration volumes, a volume and page citation will also be added. For example, SAMUEL COLE {1630, Boston} [GMB 1:430-35] represents a sketch published in the first Great Migration volume, while NICHOLAS BUSBY {1637, Dedham} represents a sketch to be published in a future volume.
  • A string of citations of the form [Dawes-Gates 1:74, citing Perley 1:254, citing ELR 20:12] or [MD 16:181-82, citing PCLR 2:2:73] may serve one of two purposes. It may indicate a secondary source that cites a document, when the document itself has not been examined; or it may indicate a published transcript of a document, followed by the citation of the document itself.

Key to Sketch Headings

Except for that minority of persons who left behind one or two records in New England, each of the persons treated in the Great Migration Study Project is presented according to a fixed format, which forces research to answer a series of questions. There are three sections that are rigidly formatted, and then a more informal section.

The first section asks questions related directly to the movements of the family or individual from the date of the last known residence in England to the end of his, her or their lives. Entries in this section will generally be brief.

The second group of questions is of a biographical nature, attempting to provide answers about education, officeholding, wealth and so on.

The third formatted section presents the specifically genealogical material: birth, death, spouses and children.

These three sections are followed by a free-form space, in which a variety of matters may be discussed, and finally, in some cases, a bibliographic note for those families that have been treated in print several times.

The rest of this section proceeds through the parts of a sketch, pointing out what is likely to be found under each heading, and what is not.



ORIGIN: The origin for our purposes is the last known residence in England or Holland before migration. This will frequently be different from the place of birth, and knowledge of this difference can be important in assessing the motivation for migration, and connecting the immigrant with others who made the move about the same time. The place of birth will be given as the place of origin only when no other residence in England is known.

If any residence in England other than the place of birth is known, it will be given here even if it was many years before the date of migration. For example, Bigod Eggleston, who was born at Settrington, Yorkshire, lived at a later date in Norwich, Norfolk, but was last seen there in 1614, sixteen years before he came to New England. Presumably he lived somewhere else in England in the 1620s, but for now we give his origin as Norwich.

An origin will be given only when there is solid evidence. If someone in the past has made a plausible suggestion, or if there is a leading clue, the entry here will be "Unknown," and there will be discussion of the possibilities in the COMMENTS section. (Information on place and date of birth, if known, will be given in the genealogical portion of the sketch, under BIRTH.)

MIGRATION: In this section we attempt to determine the year in which this person or family migrated to New England. If we are fortunate enough to have an entry on a passenger list, the year will be given, along with the name of the vessel. Where there is no passenger list entry (the majority of the cases), the year of migration is estimated from the evidence available. For example, it will frequently be the case that the first evidence we have for the presence of a person in Plymouth Colony is on the tax of 25 March 1633. Since most of the passenger ships arrived in May and June in these years, we assume that anyone appearing in this tax list must have arrived no later than 1632, and that year will be given at this point. Thus, in some cases the year given here will be precise, and in other cases it will be the latest possible date of arrival; in either case, if no citation is given here, the year chosen may be deduced from information given in a later section.

FIRST RESIDENCE: The evidence on first residence in New England will usually come from the surviving town or church records, although it may also be learned from court or literary sources. In many instances the evidence on first residence will be from several years after arrival in New England, and so the possibility remains that the immigrant settled in one place for a short time without leaving a record, and then moved on to another settlement. The entry here will simply be based on the best surviving evidence.

REMOVES: If the subject of the sketch resided in more than one New England settlement, that information is given here. When the year of removal is known or can be deduced, the entry would say, for example, "Hartford 1635"; in this example, we would probably not have a record which explicitly stated that the person made the move in that year, but we would learn from the Cambridge records that the person had received land grants in 1633 and 1634, but did not appear in the land inventory taken in the fall of 1635, indicating early removal to Hartford, in advance of the main party. In many instances we will not be able to fix the date of migration so precisely, and the entry might then read "Windsor by 1648," indicating that the person was of record in Windsor in that year, but his or her last record in the prior place of residence was two or more years earlier. In some cases a family might reside in one of those towns that subdivided itself early, and so a date of "removal" might be impossible to determine. In Charlestown, for instance, many families soon established homes on the opposite side of the Mystic River from Charlestown proper. When this area was set off some years later as Malden, it cannot be said that the family moved, only that the town line had shifted around them. Similar situations arise with Beverly and Braintree. In these instances the new town will be included in the list of REMOVES, but without a date attached.

RETURN TRIPS: This section encompasses movements in which the sometime New England resident returned to England temporarily or permanently, or moved on to a colony outside New England, whether on the mainland or in the Caribbean.

OCCUPATION: This heading will frequently be blank, as many of the early New Englanders left no direct evidence of occupation. In a few instances when a detailed inventory allows a deduction that the person was a subsistence farmer, the occupation will be stated as husbandman. In most instances when no evidence is available and this section is omitted, we may assume that the person could be described as yeoman or husbandman.

CHURCH MEMBERSHIP: When we have direct evidence from surviving church records of membership in a given church, that knowledge will appear here. In addition, when church membership can be deduced from other records, most commonly from admission to freemanship in Massachusetts Bay after 1 May 1631, that will be included here as well. For many settlements we have no surviving church records and no information on church membership. Most importantly, since no records exist for the early Plymouth church, and since no minister was settled there for a long period of time, we will only enter data on membership in Plymouth church for a few people who are mentioned directly in that context by Bradford or some other contemporary writer.

FREEMAN: For some Plymouth Colony men, records of admission to freemanship were entered in the court minutes. Many freemen were not so recorded, but lists of freemen were compiled periodically, at first for the colony as a whole, and then for the entire colony, but organized town by town. The court records also have some entries for men who were propounded for freemanship, but not admitted to that condition. There are also lists of men who took the oath of fidelity, and that data is also recorded in this section.

OFFICES: This section includes both civil service, whether at the town, county or colony level, and also military service. In most sketches we attempt to include all discoverable service, with the limitation that much of the evidence, especially for town offices, remains in manuscript form, not all of which has been searched. For those community leaders who held many higher offices, no attempt has been made here to collect evidence on all lesser offices.

All civil service will be presented first, usually with separate paragraphs for each colony, county or town in which service has been found. All military service will then be grouped at the end of this section. All able-bodied adult males were expected to serve in the local train band, and evidence of that service will be included here; this may amount to nothing more than an entry for a weapon or two in the probate inventory for that individual.

EDUCATION: The most direct evidence for education will be for those men, mostly ministers, who attended one of the universities in England – Cambridge or Oxford. Our source for these institutions will be Venn and Foster. Some immigrants also attended a grammar school in England (preparatory to university in some cases). Beyond evidence of this sort, we will rely principally on three other sources to get some idea of the level of education and literacy reached by a given immigrant: holding an office that required reading and writing ability, such as town clerk; ownership of books, usually found in probate inventories; and ability to sign one’s name.

ESTATE: Most of the material included under this heading will be from land and probate records. At this early period much of the evidence on landholding (not limited to proprietorial grants) is to be found in town records; since much of this material remains unpublished, not all records of land transactions for the persons of interest to us have been included here.

Much of the evidence for the identities of the children of the immigrants, and the birth order, will be found here. When more detailed argumen-tation on these points is needed, it will be found under COMMENTS.

BIRTH: When we know the English origin of the immigrant, and have the baptismal record, that will be entered here, along with the names of the parents of the immigrant. More frequently, we will not have this information; nevertheless, in almost all cases, an attempt will be made to estimate a year of birth for the immigrant, however crudely. This will be based largely on certain assumptions about the minimum or average age at which certain life events occurred: fourteen to witness a document or choose a guardian; sixteen to become a church member; twenty-one to become a freeman; twenty-five as the approximate age of first marriage for most men.

DEATH: In the absence of a specific record of death, an estimate will be made based on the appearance of the subject in other records. This will frequently be based on probate documents, but there are many other possibilities. In such cases there may be no direct citation of the relevant documents here, as they will almost always be cited more directly under some other heading.

MARRIAGE: For each spouse data on date and place of marriage, when known, is given, as well as the parents of the spouse, any previous or later spouses of that spouse, and a date of death.

CHILDREN: Evidence that allows us to compile a list of children born to a given couple, and to deduce their birth order, will be found mostly under ESTATECOMMENTS, or both.

When we do not have a specific date of birth of baptism from primary sources, we attempt to assign an approximate date, in order to bring the family into better focus. In some cases that date will be relatively precise, and will be entered as, for example, "about 1638." Such a date will generally be derived from an age at death or an age given in a deposition, but may also be imposed by our knowledge of the structure of the rest of the family. An "about" date should be considered to be accurate within a year or two on either side of the stated year. Dates that are known less precisely will be entered as, for example, "say 1638." These dates may be assigned somewhat arbitrarily, based on our knowledge of other dates in the family, on birth order, and on a number of assumptions, including the expectation of a two-year interval between births (unless the earlier child died very soon) and the exclusion of multiple births without specific evidence for such events.

We do not attempt here to outline the full career of each child. We wish only to determine whether the child died young, and if not, whether the child eventually married. Thus, although all known marriages of the child will usually be given, in some cases we may only present the first marriage, just to differentiate this child from others of the same name in other families. We do not make a special effort to determine the date of death, although this may be included if it assists in estimating the year of birth.

ASSOCIATIONS: Two different types of information may appear here. First, when the subject of the sketch is related, whether by marriage or by blood, to some other immigrant to New England prior to 1643, and when that relationship existed prior to migration, that information will be shown here. This may simply demonstrate the influence of kinship on migration, or it may provide clues for further research in England. Second, if no such tie to another participant in the Great Migration is known, this will be the place to point out persistent associations with other immigrants, which may provide clues to English origins and group or chain migrations.

COMMENTS: This section provides an opportunity for discussing any matter that does not fit neatly into one of the sections described above. It may include, but is not restricted to, the following:

Specific records that do not fall into any of the narrowly-defined categories above, but which are thought to be of interest. The most common of these will be court appearances, whether in civil or criminal proceedings.

Various activities that fall outside the categories of the biographical section, such as William Aspinwall’s trading and exploratory expedition up the Delaware River, or the evidence for George Alcock as a butcher.

Discussion of errors or discrepancies, whether in primary or secondary sources. If possible the discrepancy will be corrected; if not, the arguments in favor of various positions will be presented. Errors in obscure sources may be ignored, but all problems in Savage and Pope will be discussed.

Evidence and arguments for specific genealogical conclusions. In some cases the records given under the ESTATE section will be sufficient, without further interpretation, to establish the list of children. But when this is not the case, further evidence and argumentation will be given here.

Suggestions for further research. This will be the case when not all available records have been searched, or when some likely line of research suggests itself.

BIBLIOGRAPHIC NOTE: For some families, there has been sufficient material published to require separate discussion. This will be the case especially when a late-nineteenth-century genealogy has been corrected by more recent articles in the periodical literature, or when there are two or more published genealogies of greatly different value. This note will attempt to point out the relative value of what is in print, in hopes of deterring the continued reliance on outdated and incorrect claims.