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Where Did Everyone Go? Looking for German and Scot-Irish Ancestors.

Today, genealogists don’t think about research as just a collection of family names to put on a family tree. We become involved with history, geography, politics, military, travel, and all manner of social activities. We think of ourselves as very modern and progressive in comparison to our ancestors.

However, our ancestors were the most modern, progressive people of their time. If you have ancestors who came to America in the 1600s and 1700s, they were not only very modern and progressive, they were adventurers. Otherwise, they would have stayed in the old country. It is never easy to go from what you know to the unknown.

If you are driving from the northeast by car, the main roads north to south are Interstate 95 and Interstate 81. Traveling today, we may pick a southern destination, determine that we are traveling by car, arrange accommodations to stay in a hotel along the way, and again at our destination. Then we enjoy the sights, sounds, and adventures that are a result of our trip. Part of our trail on Interstate 81 has been a north-south travel route for hundreds of years as the Native Americans traversed the country. We talk about “snow birds” who leave the cold and snow of the northern states to go south around October or November and then return home in the spring to enjoy all that the northern states have to offer as also partaking in this route.

The Great Wagon Road, the originator of Interstate 81, was an improved Indian trail that ran from Canada through the Great Appalachian Valley north and south. It was a migration pathway to Canada and Georgia from Pennsylvania. The German Palatines area of Europe is what many people consider the origin of the Pennsylvania Dutch settlers in America, German-speaking immigrants who wanted to find rich farmland and work it efficiently to become stable and prosperous.

The Pennsylvania Dutch were descendants of refugees who had left religious persecution and devastation of war in their homeland. In the Palatinate of the German Rhine, some Amish and Mennonites came to that area from the German-speaking regions of Switzerland where, as Anabaptists, they were persecuted. The Pennsylvania Dutch roots go much further back in the Palatinate. From 1689-1697, the War of the Grand Alliance, later known as the War of the Palatinate, forced many Germans to flee because all major cities of the region were devastated as the French pillaged the Palatinate

Things calmed down until 1702 when the War of Spanish Succession began, lasting ten years until 1713. More from the Palatine area fled. More immigration of the Germans to America from the Rhine area was caused by devastation of the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) and additional wars between German principalities and France. Members of this group founded the community of Germantown in Pennsylvania in 1683 on land that William Penn sold to them. Between 1727 and 1775, as many as 65,000 Germans landed in Philadelphia and other ports. More German immigrants arrived between 1749-1754.

By the time of the American Revolution, the Pennsylvania Dutch composed nearly half of the population of Pennsylvania and generally supported the revolution. An early group from the Roxborough/Germantown area of Pennsylvania moved to colonial Nova Scotia in 1766, founding present day Moncton, New Brunswick, where the extensive Steeves clan descendants occupy. More Pennsylvania Germans settled in British North American territory where tracts of land were offered to immigrant groups such as the German Company Tract in the township of Waterloo, Ontario. Others settled in the area of Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Conestoga wagons were first specifically mentioned in an accounting record of 31 December 1717. Some believe they were named after the Conestoga River or Conestoga Township in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and believed to have been introduced by the Mennonite German settlers. The Brethren of Lancaster County and sects of the Mennonites said that these wagons were named after a local Native American tribe called the Conestoga.

The Conestoga wagons were designed and developed as a heavy covered wagon primarily used in the eastern United States. They were large enough to transport loads up to six tons generally drawn by horses, mules, or oxen. They were designed to shelter people, keep the contents from moving about during motion, and, if properly caulked, to aid in crossing rivers. The Conestoga wagon refers specifically to this vehicle and is not merely a generic term for a covered wagon. A true Conestoga wagon was too heavy to use on prairies. Prairie wagons were ordinary farm wagons fitted with canvas covers.

After the American Revolution, the Conestoga wagon was used to open up commerce to Pittsburgh and Ohio in the west, and south through the Appalachian Valley of Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia to what is now the Carolinas and further on to Georgia.

The Great Wagon Road passed through the southern part of Virginia to what was then called Augusta, now Staunton, Virginia. This particular outpost was a very large land purchase that included the Staunton area of Virginia and part of North Carolina. Staunton had a very large trading post, watering area fed by springs, an inn, and a pub. This particularly large parcel of land had the family of ownership fighting over it for more than a century.

I had the privilege to meet one of the descendants of the family who was on the winning side of the ownership issue. She is also a genealogist. She had been researching and collecting family data for several years. When the last disagreement over ownership of the land and resulting businesses was raised, she was instrumental in providing copies of documents that went back to the original purchase documents of her colonial ancestor. This was a major legal issue and had been covered by the press since the first squabble over the land had occurred during colonial times. She is a believer of scanning all documents pertaining to the family because you never know when a descendent may need them.

The Great Wagon Road was never a comfortable route. It did keep wagons moving southward to help open up the Colonies and later, the United States of America, because the people kept moving down the Great Wagon Road all the way to Georgia. From this road, settlers branched off to move to either side of the road into the Appalachian Mountains where new settlements blossomed.

From the northern start of the road all the way to the southern end, wagons moving south were matched by a line of wagons full of agricultural produce headed to northern urban areas. Enormous herds of cattle, hogs, and other livestock were regularly driven to market in the north. The business of trading was alive and well through the Great Wagon Road.

Travelers preferred high and dry roads, but water stations were spaced along the most traveled routes. Springs were reliable and ready for watering livestock and there were posts to purchase necessities. Inns were generally available along the routes, but only provided the most basic food and a space to sleep.

There is a great deal of research on the Great Wagon Road as a migration trail. Wikipedia has an article that is very detailed in listing cities where this road carried people and goods (see Great Wagon Road) and will be useful if you are looking for your German family members.

The Scotch-Irish American immigrants who were more likely restless, clannish, and fiercely independent settled in areas that formed the Appalachian culture because they traveled along the Great Wagon Road.

Today, if you are traveling on Interstate 81 following the Great Wagon Road, you will encounter cars and trucks going north and south filled with families looking for new adventures and opportunities. You will also see trucks bringing food and supplies in each direction. You may even see trucks carrying live pigs and chickens. We haven’t changed all that much. When you are ready for a break, the Staunton,Virginia, exit offers hotels, fuel, restaurants, and a change of direction for traveling east and west.

Bio: I am a Certified Genealogist and a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. I believe that the hobby of genealogy is fun, exciting, and very satisfying. Through researching genealogy, you may add skills, meet new friends, and gain new respect for those who have gone before you. You may reach me via email at ‘’ with questions or comments. I thoroughly enjoy the hobby and hope that you will too. Print your photographs of family. Label your photos with a first and last name, an approximate date, and a possible location if known. Please look for a new genealogy book from this author to be released in 2018.


By Marjory Regan

A brief bio of Marjory Regan: I am a member of the Williams Mills Chapter of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR) and a “Certified Genealogist’ Thank you for your questions, comments, problems and successes. Email me at I think genealogy is a fascinating hobby; I hope you will, too. Get Started. Do something small every day, it all add up. Label the photos! First & Last names and approximate date of the photo. Do it for an hour while watching TV.