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"Go west young man" said John Babstone Lane Soule in the "Terre Haute Express" (an Indiana newspaper). And so they did, along the trails, by ships, and later, by rail. Information about life on the long journey west and early settlement can provide a fascinating background for your family history and wonderful clues for further tracing your ancestors.

Where do you go for this information if you aren't lucky enough to have diaries, letters, or other biographical information outlining your ancestors' travels? Sources are becoming more and more abundant. Printed sources can provide valuable details and many of these publications are appearing Online. Here is an excerpt from "Nebraska: the Land and the People: Volume 1," available Online to subscribers at:

"The hardships endured by the pioneer settlers of the Territory were at no time more severe than in the winter of 1856-57, during which there was an almost constant succession of heavy snow storms, accompanied by bitter cold. This weather set in December 1 and lasted until spring. Many wild and domestic animals perished and many settlers also lost their lives. In Richardson County, in the first December storm, twenty head of cattle were walled in a valley by the snow and most of them perished. Their owner, in February, found a few survivors that had maintained existence by feeding on the branches of trees. In Dodge County the sun was not seen for two months, and ravines thirty feet deep were filled with snow. A man was lost in the storm and his body not recovered until April, when the snow had melted. In Burt County snow fell for six days and nights without stopping, and the settlers would have starved had it not been for the game that they caught in the snowdrifts. In Cuming County the creeks and rivers were buried by the snow. Settlers traveled on foot to the Missouri River to obtain supplies and hauled them home on hand sleds. The deer, elk and antelope sought shelter in the timber along the streams, and one settler killed over seventy with an axe. In such weather, man had a certain advantage over hoofed animals, as the crust of snow would bear a man, but the animals, with their greater weight and small feet, broke through and were helpless. In Otoe County the deer ran through the streets of Nebraska City, pursued by hungry wolves. On the Oregon Trail, between Fort Kearny and Fort Laramie, the snow lay two feet deep from October to May, and the drifts filled the valleys. In no winter since has the snow been so deep, so badly drifted, or remained so long on the ground."

A great place to locate other sources like this is NUCMC (National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections) available Online at the Library of Congress' Web site at:

A search with "oregon trail" as the subject turned up 87 hits with several diaries, letters, and other first hand accounts of the trip west on the Oregon Trail. "Colorado" and "pioneers" turned up 24 hits, also diaries, memoirs, and more.

The web is also a great source of background information. Trail sites with maps, diaries, pictures, and biographies are becoming very popular. Here are a few to start. If you don't find what you are looking for here, try using your favorite search engine. You'll be amazed at the wealth of information that it will turn up!

The Overland Trail

American Migrations Web Site

National Historic Trails Interpretive Center

The Northern Great Plains, 1880-1920

Pioneering in the Upper Midwest, 1820-1910 American Memory Project, LOC

Juliana's Links (In the Category Search, select 'Miscellaneous' and then "Westward Movement")

Oregon-California Trails Association

End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center

Oregon Trail

Emigrant Summit Trail (to California)

Opening of the California Trail

MORMON TRAIL The Pioneer Experience

History of the Mormon Trail

Iowa Mormon Trails

The Interactive Santa Fe Trail (SFT) Homepage

Fort Union and the Santa Fe Trail

Chisholm Trail Anniversary Site

Chisholm Trail

Old Spanish Trail Association

"The reality of a transcontinental railroad resulted in several changes in Mormon emigration policy. In the late '60's, missionaries often recommended to their converts that they remain in their homes until the completion of the railroad, thus avoiding much of the hardship, sickness and death that had marked the trail of the covered wagon. By so doing they would also be able to accumulate more money to bring with them to the new community, or to assure the passage of the entire family. And in Utah, men who would otherwise be called to leave their homes to guide the incoming Saints to Zion, could stay at home to carry on their own work. With this in mind, the missionaries were frequently given the responsibility of placing families in mid-west or eastern communities where they could find homes and employment."

The above excerpt is from "Our Pioneer Heritage, Volume 8," (available online to subscribers at:


Railroad Maps from the Library of Congress

Golden Spike National Historic Site

Railroads in Kansas

Westward Migration in U.S. 1775-1860

Exploration and Settlement Before 1675

Exploration and Settlement 1675-1800

Exploration and Settlement 1800-1820

Exploration and Settlement 1820-1835

Exploration and Settlement 1835-1850

Exploration and Settlement 1850-1890

"Women's Diaries of the Westward Journey" by Lillian Schlissel (Schocken Books, 1992)

"U.S. Migration Patterns" by Wendy L. Elliott (Bountiful, UT: American Genealogical Lending Library, 1987)

"The Transportation Frontier: Trans-Mississippi West, 1865-1890" by Oscar Osburn Winther (Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1964)

"Blazing a Wagon Trail to Oregon : A Weekly Chronicle of the Great Migration of 1843" by Lloyd W. Coffman (Echo Books, 1993)

"The Orphan Trains: Placing Out in America" by Marilyn Irvin Holt (Univ of Nebraska, 1992)

Thanks for the above to Juliana Smith, Editor, Ancestry Daily News - Joel White, Associate Editor and the Daily News. To subscribe to this newsletter, visit and type your Email address in the box provided, or send your Email address to:

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