Often on census documents, especially those from rural areas one might find several related families. People in the 19th century did not generally move far from home unless the opportunity for advancement was lacking. Children commonly also took up the occupations of their parents. Growing up together, neigbourhood children ended up marrying each other as well, especially if their parents socialized or worked together.
Certainly there were periods in history, especially in Canada and the United States when new parts of the countries were opening up for settlers and families were enticed to join the land rushes. Railroad construction was a major part of and spurred the development of new territories.
In many of my own family lines we have found that extended families moved together, or at least within a short time period. One family might have gone ahead to “scout” out areas and were then followed by siblings and cousins. Friends and neighbours also joined together to established new communities.
About several of my ancestors, my aunt wrote in 1971:
In 1866, when the wagon train headed for Kansas,[from Indiana] included in the group were: the little [Daniel and Hannah] Watson family; Hannah's youngest son, John Miller; two married children of John and Clarinda Mayfield [Hannah’s brother], Thomas W. and Keziah, whose husband was Charles N. Lewis, a son of Harriet (Keith) Lewis [my 2nd great-grandaunt, and daughter of my 3rd great-grandfather, Samuel Adkins Keith], (Charles N. was a first cousin of our Alice Jane (Keith) Miller [my great-grandmother]); the oldest daughter of Isaac Mayfield [my 2nd great granduncle, and son of my 3rd great-grandfather, Thomas Mayfield], Virginia, and her husband; and Isaac's youngest daughter, Catherine, then 15, who married in Kansas in 1871, Daniel T. Lewis, another son of Harriet. [Hannah Watson was my 2nd great-grandmother. She married Daniel Watson after the 1846 death of my 2nd great-grandfather, John Conrad Miller]
Isaac Mayfield's middle daughter, Florella, married in Indiana in 1867, Silas Butler. They removed to Kansas in 1880. In 1897, their daughter, Alpharetta, married Isaac Perry Mayfield, son of John and Clarinda, and first cousin of Florella.
Others in this Kansas-bound party were John W. Keith who was a son of Samuel R. Keith, twin to our James B. Keith.
In 1878, when Isaac Mayfield, with his 3rd wife and their small daughter Ellen, decided to follow their relatives and friends to Kansas, he took along his son, Benjamin, and nephew Isaac Perry and niece Hannah, children of John and Clarinda. Isaac settled in Randolph, Riley County, where he opened a drug store and also practiced medicine. In this 1878 party also were Hannah's daughter, Matilda Ann, and her husband, Calvin Hudson, and their family (this couple undoubtedly related to Calvin Hudson and to David T. Tobias, husband of Ann Mayfield).
The Mayfield, Miller and Keith families are all part of my direct family lines that came together in southeast Indiana – Jefferson, Jennings and Scott Counties – and then moved west to Kansas. It seems all very complicated what with the marriages between cousins, childhood friends and neighbours, both before and after the migrations.
I have discovered over the years of researching that, when encountering a roadblock in finding a particular family, it is useful to look for siblings, cousins or former neighbours to see if they had all moved to other locations together and set up households near to one another. Indexing of censuses and other lists often contain errors in the spelling of names that only direct observation of copies of the original documents can resolve. The people you are searching for are where they are supposed to be but not identified correctly, so if you can find an old friend or neightbour, or relative, you might also come across the very person you were looking for to start with.
Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program in England, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy in several family history society journals. Wayne also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated