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Emigrant Aid Societies

Tips for finding obscure emigrant records.


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Resource: GenWeekly
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During the 1850s many Americans wished to move further Westward for a variety of reasons: better land, the lure of gold and silver mining, to escape the crowded conditions of the East, just to name a few. However, many people found they did not have the financial means to make these dreams a reality.

During the same period, anti-slavery groups wanted to shift the balance of power in Nebraska and Kansas, ensuring that those states would not become slave states. Their fear was that pro-slavery settlers from nearby Missouri would settle there and shift the vote to a slave state. The solution the Massachusetts Emigrant Aid Company adopted was that it would help finance the move of settlers from the East to the new states. The Emigrant Aid Company was not, supposedly, to influence how the settlers would vote, but two things were in their favor: settlers coming from the Northeast were more likely to be anti-slavery, and once the settler had the financial assistance of the Company, a certain amount of gratitude towards the company was likely to have been formed. The company was founded in 1854 by Eli Thayer, Alexander H. Bullock, and Edward Everett Hale and was renamed in 1855 the New England Emigrant Aid Company.

The company was directly responsible for bringing approximately 2,000 new emigrants to the Mid-West. Some of the records of settlers whom received aid from the Society can be seen online at There are also some interesting descriptions of what the settlers encountered as a results of their travels. The original papers of the Emigrant Aid Society are now housed in the Kansas State Historical Society.

This particular aid society was not the only entity that existed. There were others that assisted foreign immigrants such as the Germans or Irish who wanted to travel to America. Societies also existed for the benefit of certain religious groups.

In order to find records for these societies you will have to do some digging. These records are more obscure than most and are often overlooked resources for the genealogist. Begin first with the state history repository in the state in which your ancestor lived. You can also try a Google search for records that may already be transcribed. Don't let the difficulty in looking for these gems discourage you from reaping the rewards that they may bring, remember it only takes one piece of information to tear down a brick wall.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2007.

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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