Resource for Genealogists

Frederick Merks’ book “History of the Westward Movement” is a valuable resource for family historians. Merk goes into extensive detail on the history of land transfers, migrations, taxation, legislation and the American economy from the beginning of American history up to Migratory Farm Labor from 1900- 1975.

Chapters include “Land Policy and the Principle of Equality of States”, “Settlement of the Prairie and Lake Plains”, and “Agriculture in the Middle West and the Granger and Greenback Movements”.

Merk includes maps outlining road and railroad development, which crops were produced when and where, treaty cessions and population growth, amongst others. By reading his book, you may understand why your ancestor went where when. For instance, the Homestead Act was legislated in 1862 and encouraged many people to migrate into the Middle West areas, including Kent County, Michigan where my ancestor Benjamin W Ellison went early in 1863 to farm his free 160 acres.

I must add a note of caution, though, as Merk engages in offensive and racist views at times about American Indians, even referring to Indian women as “squaws” — a deragotory and offensive term. He tends to stereotype American Indians as being the simple savage and his explanations of why he thinks American Indians acted in the manner they did with white people often falls very far short of the truth. Fortunately, Merk does acknowledge that American Indian lands were gained unethically and immorally. Merk died in 1997 when 90 years old and was under the tutelage of Frederick Jackson Turner. He taught history at Harvard University for years. If you can look past this problem in the book, the information will assist you in your research of your family’s history.