Compiling the Great Migration Directory

Robert Charles Anderson_June 2014_1In the fall of 2010 I was in the midst of researching and writing the seventh and final volume in the Great Migration second series. The publication of that volume in 2011 would mean that sketches had been published for all Great Migration immigrants from 1620 to 1635, somewhat less than one-half of all those who came to New England during the entire Great Migration period, from 1620 to 1640. Given the quarter-century it has taken to reach this point in the Great Migration Study Project, I eventually, and reluctantly, concluded that I would not be the person to write the sketches for immigrants who arrived in New England between 1636 and 1640. And yet I did not want to abandon the Project at that point, and so began to cast about for a mechanism by which I could at least survey the remaining immigrants.

What I came up with, in discussing my dilemma with friends and colleagues, was a two-step process. First, I would compile a preliminary checklist of all those immigrants who came to New England between 1636 and 1640. I would create this checklist by undertaking a systematic survey of all surviving records generated in New England for those years, and taking note of individuals who had not already been covered in the published Great Migration volumes. This first step is identical with the procedure I employed for the published volumes of sketches.

Second, I would merge this checklist with the list of sketches already created for the three volumes of Great Migration Begins and the seven volumes of the second Great Migration series. From this merged list of all Great Migration immigrants, I would create concise entries for each head of family or isolated individual, each entry to include a limited amount of information about the immigrant, including English origin (if known), year of arrival, and the best available treatment of the immigrant in the secondary literature.

For those persons in the checklist who arrived between 1620 and 1635, I would create entries by extracting information from the published sketches (and, when relevant, taking note of more recent research). For those who arrived between 1636 and 1640, I would create entries by adding to the checklist whatever additional data points were required to generate a useful entry, especially English origins. In this way, the resulting reference work would present enough information about every Great Migration immigrant to provide the researcher with an easy path to the best treatments of an immigrant of interest (or to indicate that no useful treatment yet existed).

As examples of my method, here is an updated entry for someone in The Great Migration Begins (see any of the earlier published Great Migration volumes for a key to abbreviations):

Thomson, James: Fishtoft, Lincolnshire; 1633; Charlestown, Woburn [GMB 1809-11; TAG 74:101-4].

Here is someone new to the series, first seen in 1637:

Martin, Ambrose: Unknown; 1637; Dorchester, Concord; not seen after 1642 [DTR 24, 28, 30; DChR 4; CoVR 2; MBCR 1:252].


Adapted from “Documenting New England’s Founders in The Great Migration Directory” in the Summer 2015 issue of American Ancestors magazine (a benefit of NEHGS membership). The Great Migration Directory will be published in June 2015.

About Robert Charles Anderson

Robert Charles Anderson, Director of the Great Migration Study Project, was educated as a biochemist and served in the United States Army in electronics intelligence. In 1972 he discovered his early New England ancestry and thereafter devoted his time and energies to genealogical research. He published his first genealogical article in 1976, and about the same time began to plan for what eventually became the Great Migration Study Project. In 1983 he received a Master’s degree in colonial American History from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Anderson was elected a Fellow of the American Society of Genealogists in 1978 and has served as Secretary and President of that organization. He became a Contributing Editor of The American Genealogist in 1979, Associate Editor in 1985 and Coeditor in 1993. He has been an editorial consultant to the New England Historical and Genealogical Register since 1989.

9 thoughts on “Compiling the Great Migration Directory

  1. I agree–this is, and will be, the most massive work of scholarship on the Great Migration ever done. I eagerly await “The Great Migration Dictionary,” as I’m hoping especially for more information on my ancestor, Maximilian Jewett and his brother Joseph, from West Reading, Yorkshire, England. They were part of a group that came with the Puritan Rev. Ezekiel Rogers in 1638, and founded Rowley, MA the following year. And that’s about as much as I know about them, though I do know who their parents, who stayed in England, are. How do I get on the list to purchase your book when it comes out? I know the many descendants of these brothers had to have married into other early families, so what books do I need to sort out those marriages? Will your book be sufficient, or will I also need “Marriages before 1700” to keep me busy for years?

    Thank you for what you’ve done!

  2. This will be the greatest contribution as it will help those of us who don’t know exactly when their immigrant arrived and we will know where to look next. Thanks for this fantastic outcome.

  3. Just a note to let you know how much your work is appreciated and valued. I am looking forward to obtaining copy of the Directory and can’t wait to begin using this terrific resource. I’m always delighted when I find a Great Migration sketch for an ancestor and I’m hoping the Directory will help me track down those from the designated time frame that remain elusive.

  4. Sounds like a great plan. I’ve been waiting to see what you write on my late-comers. Thank you for spending a good chunk of your career on this valuable endeavor. And for not abandoning our ancestors who were a bit late to the migration party.

  5. I will never forget the day I met you at NEHGS in my early research days; you were quietly working by the front windows and I stopped and said “Hi, I’m Sandy,who are researching today? ” The response was perfect, “well I finished up the Anderson s so I decided to work on some other people”. Thank you for the wonderful work, I am one of the descendants of those “other people” who thank you many times over.

  6. It was wonderful to read you will continue your magnificent work. Your Great Migration series of 10 volumes sits on my shelf and they are opened a lot in my research. They have certainly helped this amateur genealogist. Being born and raised in New England, moving many times before age 20, I have found that I have lived in communities occupied by ancestors that I did not know I had. My parents did not know either. A humble thank you for all your dedication and work on the series.

  7. A heartfelt thank you for all your wonderful work and for the education you have provided to all of us in how to do proper, rigorous analysis and interpretation of original records. I believe that your leadership and tutoring will prove to be as great a legacy as the GM volumes themselves. I’ve purchased everyone of your volumes and have pre-ordered the Directory. I’m sure you will continue to work in the field, even if it is unrealistic to think you will be able to complete all the sketches through 1640 by yourself. Now that you have put the Directory to bed, please comment in a future post on what you plan to do next. Is it a well earned rest from Genealogy or have you another project on the burner?

  8. …. and will someone be taking up the task of finishing the Great Migration series?
    As one descending from a couple who arrived ‘late’, I can only hope so!

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