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Paths, Trails and Roads

How did they get there? Genealogists often ask that question, particularly when their ancestors did the unexpected. I have learned to never second guess my ancestors. They traveled more than we would suspect!


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Type: Article
Resource: Tracing Lines
Prepared by: Ruby Coleman
Word Count: 488 (approx.)
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How did they get there? Genealogists often ask that question, particularly when their ancestors did the unexpected. I have learned to never second guess my ancestors. They traveled more than we would suspect ... be it on foot, by horse or wagon. The lure of land was so great nothing would stop them.

Very early settlers found they could leave their surroundings by locating paths that had been formed by Native Americans who were already here. In time trails were blazed and marked to make travel easier and more extensive. Those then led to roads which were wider and more accessible, yet rather primitive considering what we now call a road.

Roads over which a wagon could travel were at first found on the coastal regions and into a few river valleys. The rivers were like security blankets in that they provided water and had to lead somewhere. One of the early roads was the Boston Post Road which was created for mail service between New York and Boston. People today still travel that road, but it is called the Massachusetts Turnpike.

A much longer road was known as the King's Highway and by the time of the Revolutionary War it went from Maine to Georgia. Roads such as this were not only for travel, but for commercial ventures.

One of the better known roads was the Great Wagon Road which began as an Indian trading path and eventually became a heavily traveled route from New York to the Carolinas. It led travelers into the wilderness of Virginia, beginning at the Shenandoah Valley. The Scotch-Irish and Germans were prevalent travelers on this road. It opened up settlements not only north to south but eventually allowed pioneers to push westward. You can still travel the Great Wagon Road on I-81 in Virginia.

Early in 1755 General Edward Braddock (British) began supervising the construction of a wagon road. It went from Maryland into Pennsylvania. Braddock's Road became the first road to cross overland through the Appalachian mountains. What began as a military road eventually allowed settlers to travel westward through mountainous and wilderness areas.

The Wilderness Road was blazed through the Cumberland Mountains into Kentucky. This opened settlement into the area and was actually an extension of the Great Wagon Road in Virginia. At first the Wilderness Road was only a trail but in 1796 it was widened so Conestoga wagons could pass into Kentucky.

As settlers began pushing westward other roads were created, such as the Mohawk Turnpike and Catskill Turnpike in New York. The Mohawk Turnpike followed the Mohawk River north of the Finger Lake area westward to Buffalo. Eventually the Erie Canal was built along the same route.

Our early ancestors were, for the most part, not content to stay at home. They were seekers and doers. As long as there were paths, trails and roads, they used them, always seeking new land, new surroundings and new adventure.

Source Information: Tracing Lines, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2010.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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