Old Newspaper Ads, Your Immigrant Ancestors & U.S. Migrations

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott searches old newspapers to find advertisements that encouraged families to move to other parts of the U.S. for a better life—and shows how these ads can help you better understand the lives your ancestors lived and the decisions they made.

As genealogy and family history fans, we all know the concept of “chain migration,” which is loosely defined as the process of immigrants moving from their homeland to new lands and communities, building upon familiar and familial social relationships from the Old Country. This certainly was true in the case of many of my immigrant ancestors.

But what happened once those immigrants got to their destination in the United States? While some put down lifelong roots in the community they first arrived in, many moved on to other destinations in America. What were some of the influences on these migratory movements within the U.S.?

Newspaper Advertisements Influenced Migrations

Some of the answers can be found in simple newspaper advertisements. Just as letters home might have influenced some people to come to the States, once here they were subjected to the constant allure of a better life in other parts of the country.

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Here are some examples of historical newspaper advertisements that influenced our immigrant ancestors’ migrations to other parts of America.

Arkansans Urged to Migrate West

With the bold headline “Westward, Ho!” this 1845 advertisement tells of a meeting to be held in Napoleon, Arkansas, “to organize a company of emigrants, to remove to California.”

ad urging westward migration, Arkansas Weekly Gazette newspaper article 29 September 1845

Arkansas Weekly Gazette (Little Rock, Arkansas), 29 September 1845, page 3

Montana Riches: Land of Opportunity for Millions!

Some of the people and organizations looking to entice emigrants to move used a method that had worked in the Old Country: they wrote letters to the editor, which in many cases sure resembled an advertisement to me.

For example, take a look at this 1882 letter to the editor headlined “ROOM FOR MILLIONS.” The author of this “letter,” one James S. Brisbin writing from Keogh, Montana, covers a range of items in this letter/advertisement, including the weather, parks, the wealth of the mines in the area, and more. He states:

But not only are stock raisers, farmers and miners needed in the West, but artisans and skilled labor of all kinds. Towns are everywhere springing up, and the services of workmen of every grade are in great demand.

And just for good measure he closes his letter by reminding readers that Montana is only a four-day train ride from the East Coast, and ends with this statement: “Only four days from want and misery to wealth and joy.” Well, how could you not move there?

article urging migration to Montana, New York Herald newspaper advertisement 10 February 1882

New York Herald (New York, New York), 10 February 1882, page 9

Telegraphers Needed

This 1905 advertisement for The Morse School of Telegraphy promises immediate employment upon graduation and a salary of $40-$60 a month “east of the Rockies” and $75-$100 a month “west of the Rockies.” For that big of a difference in salary, I’d say there was probably a waiting line for telegraphers heading out West!

ad offering employment to telegraphers, Morning Olympian newspaper advertisement 2 August 1905

Morning Olympian (Olympia, Washington), 2 August 1905, page 3

The Allure of Arizona Gold

The following 1907 newspaper article reads like an ad. While not an actual advertisement, it surely advertises what opportunities might await folks interested in moving to Kofa, Arizona. Kofa, which is an acronym for “King of Arizona,” held the richest gold mine in the history of the Southwestern United States.

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It may have been an article just like this that enticed one of my own immigrant ancestors, Elijah Poad, to seek his fortune in Kofa. As a Cornish miner, he would have been well suited to the work. However, the one note this article leaves out is the fact that there was no water in Kofa, so they had to bring it in by mule teams. While Elijah did live in Kofa for a few years, he then followed many of his fellow Cornish miners and became a Yupper in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan mining copper, then on to Linden, Wisconsin, to mine lead, and finally to Anaconda, Montana, to mine for silver and other minerals.

article urging migration to Arizona for the Kofa gold rush, Tucson Daily Citizen newspaper article 12 December 1907

Tucson Daily Citizen (Tucson, Arizona), 12 December 1907, page 7

Workers Wanted All across America

This 1922 newspaper article tells readers that there are workers needed across the U.S., and reports what jobs are available where. Almost every category of employment seems to be mentioned in this article.

Jobs Now Plentiful in U.S., Saginaw News newspaper article 15 December 1922

Saginaw News (Saginaw, Michigan), 15 December 1922, page 28

Eastward Migration, Also

Not all the U.S. migration advertisements urged westward expansion, however—some encouraged migrants to head east. For example, this 1920 ad in a Colorado newspaper encourages land-seekers to head east to Michigan. It starts out with the statement “Big opportunity in Michigan.” The old advertisement continues and promises “Big money in grains, stock, poultry, or fruit.”

ad urging migration to Michigan, Denver Post newspaper advertisement 18 August 1920

Denver Post (Denver, Colorado), 18 August 1920, page 21

Many of the ancestors in my family tree moved around the United States, especially in pursuit of better economic opportunities. Did your ancestors move around the country—and if so, do you think they might have been influenced by old newspaper advertisements like these? Leave me a comment, as I’d enjoy knowing your thoughts and experiences.

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Written by Scott Phillips

Scott Phillips

Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. Scott specializes in immigrant ancestry, especially from Bohemia (Czech Republic), Cornwall, the United Kingdom, and Italy. In addition to GenealogyBank.com, Scott has been recently published by Ohio Genealogy Society, National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library, Czechoslovak Genealogical Society International, SaveEllisIsland.com, MyHeritage.com, and Greater Cleveland Genealogical Society. He was a presenter at the 2012 World Congress of the Czechoslovak Society of Arts and Sciences in Slovakia. You can follow Scott on his Facebook page at OnwardToOurPast and on his website/blog at OnwardToOurPast.

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2 thoughts on “Old Newspaper Ads, Your Immigrant Ancestors & U.S. Migrations

  1. Yes, I’ve often felt some of my ancestors moved around for economic reasons probably after hearing talk from friends/relatives and news articles/ads about opportunities. Young adult family members moved from the St Paul/Mpls area to Eddy, North Dakota in the early 1900′s, stayed a short while, and returned. Ads for new land opening up? Also had family move to Washington State during the depression to work on apple orchards and live in orchard employee housing. Ads for employment? What would you search for in newspapers to find these ads?

    • Hi Kathy,

      You tell an interesting story! I had several ancestors move from Minnesota to Iowa, then out to the Dakotas, then on to Cleveland. A rather strange route for sure.

      In my searches I use a variety of search terms. One I find useful is ‘jobs’ and then add the industry, such as you mention ‘apple orchard’. ‘Help Wanted’ is also good if you modify it with the industry, say for instances ‘mining’ or a certain job such as ‘cooper’ or ‘lamplighter’. ‘Opportunity’ with some modifiers will help too.
      And of course don’t forget you can also limit the searches by State or city or even newspaper.
      Have fun, good luck, and let me know what you find!
      Scott

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