American Settlements and Migrations: A Primer for Genealogists and Family Historians by Lloyd de Witt Bockstruck: Book Review

Disclaimer: I purchased this book and have received no compensation of any kind for this book review.

Recently, I came across a terrific book, published in 2017 – American Settlements and Migrations: A Primer for Genealogists and Family Historians by noted librarian, author and genealogy speaker Lloyd de Witt Bockstruck, who sadly passed away in May 2018 in Dallas, Texas.

The compact book has only 108 pages, divided into thirteen chapters, although the last two are both labeled as Chapter 12 in the book:

  1. American Settlements and Migrations in America
  2. New England
  3. West Indies
  4. The Middle Colonies
  5. The Southern Colonies
  6. The Impact of the Revolutionary War
  7. Post Revolutionary War Settlements
  8. The Old Northwest
  9. The Old Southwest
  10. The Trans-Mississippi West
  11. The West
  12. The Pacific Coast
  13. Alaska, Hawaii and Canadian Settlements

Where do I even begin? This primer, as it was named by Mr. Bockstruck, is jam packed full of facts. It is both an overview of migratory and settlement history and a dense little encyclopedia. Did you know that Robert Beheathland, in Virginia in 1607, founded the first English family in America? However, having only two daughters, there are no male descendants today with his surname. Or, did you know that the given names Ulrich, Benedict and Vincent are not just German, but often SWISS German?

However, the purpose of this book is not be to a biographical dictionary. Although names of many settlers are mentioned throughout, the focus is on the historical and natural factors which affected how each of the colonies and future states were settled. Parts of Canada and the West Indies are thrown in the mix as they relate to Americans. I’ve never thought about the population numbers in the 1600s, but learned that of the 500,000+ who left England in the 1600s, about half of the emigrants settled in – the West Indies!

Many other scholarly works are cited in this book, allowing readers to further explore early histories of particular regions.

I was floored to learn that there was a settlement of New England Puritans in Dorchester, South Carolina in the 1700s. (I’ve never heard of Dorchester, South Carolina, but if I had, I would have wondered because Dorchester, Masschusetts was one of the first towns settled in New England.

The chapter that covers the impact of the American Revolution delves into which Hessian units came from which part of Germany and the removal of Tories and Loyalists from their homeland.

Some of the future states and Canadian provinces are treated in lengthy description, while some, like Arizona, are extremely short. Arizona’s entry just mentions that Tucson was the first settlement in 1776 and when the northern and southern areas became part of the United States.

There are so many factual statements in this book that after I read just a page or two, it felt like my brain would explode with all the new information it was taking in. Each paragraph is a series of sentences on one topic, but seems more like individual sentences that don’t really flow together easily. For example, one sentence might be about Germans who settled in Place X. The next sentence covers the French who came there, the third about English settlers and the fourth might explain natural events (like earthquakes or storms) that affected lives of those who lived in that place. I don’t mean this as a criticism – I love this book – but it isn’t written in a prosaic manner. Fact follows fact follows fact, so the amount of information presented is very intense.

Having said that, I believe this book should be mandatory reading for any serious genealogist. It opened my eyes to the how and why areas were settled and tuned me into subtle facts that will help guide my future research. Calling it a primer, I think, was a good call as it is a sink-or-swim introduction to the many factors that affected American migratory patterns and settlements. This primer is a synopsis of lesser known facts about U.S. history and factors affecting its founding and growth, from the 1600s into the 19th century.

There is a terrific book by Stephen A. Flanders, published in 1998, that works well as a companion to Bockstruck’s book, Atlas of American Migration.

It was mentioned in Lloyd Bockstruck’s book and is available online for under $10.00. Together, they paint a full picture of Americans and their migration patterns across the country.

American Settlements and Migrations: A Primer for Genealogist and Family Historians by Lloyd de Witt Bockstruck is available from genealogical.com for $21.

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