Did Some Dude on a Boat Decide Your Fate?

Did Some Dude on a Boat Decide Your Fate?

by Kerry Scott on 1 March 2012

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I had a dude on a boat. His name was Johann Jacob Scheiber.

Jacob and his family arrived in New York on 6 July 1847. On 22 August 1847, he was buying land in Washington County, Wisconsin (actually Wisconsin Territory; statehood came the following year). That’s a fairly short interval, which tells me that Jacob either knew where he wanted to go when he arrived in New York, or figured it out pretty quickly afterward.

He chose well, too. Washington County was a good place to raise a German family, and he and his wife ended up staying until they died in the 1880s. Apparently that one big move was enough for them.

Jacob’s three sons scattered. The youngest, Valentine, moved to Chicago. The middle son, Frederick, moved to Milwaukee. The oldest, Frank, moved all over the place. He’s the one I’m descended from, and I’ve moved all over the place too. Many of Frank’s descendants inherited his wanderlust. We call it itchy feet.

Many of the Wisconsin families I’ve researched, though, have no such gene. Their dudes on boats settled in Wisconsin about the same time Jacob did…but their descendents stayed. And stayed. And stayed. I don’t think this is unique to Wisconsin; I know New Englanders whose families have lived in the same area for 300 years.

This blows my mind. I can’t wrap my brain around it. I’m from a family of people who pick a place off the map and then move there, sight unseen. I’ve done that myself, repeatedly. In fact, I had no idea I had any roots in Wisconsin when I moved here. It was pure coincidence.

So I’m curious. Do you live in the same place your ancestors did? Is it because you think it’s the best place for you, or because you’re just blooming where you’re planted? Why do you live where you live?

Photo by Celso Flores

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{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

JL March 1, 2012 at 4:25 pm

In a word, my parents’ itchy feet and then my itchy feet. I was quite surprised to find there’s just gaggles of my ancestors and their offspring who have stayed around Northern Ohio for over 200 years now.


Jo Graham March 1, 2012 at 4:27 pm

Jacob must have had a plan, I reckon. I’m still in the same country as my ancestors (and quite happy, thank you) but a few of my dudes on boats sneaked off to the US, Canada and Australia. I couldn’t do my job from abroad, so I am happy to remain in Scotland :-)


Diane B March 1, 2012 at 4:48 pm

Kerry, I think of my family as the un-pioneers. In 380 years, they made it about 50 miles from Boston to Providence, in some cases, less. That’s probably not good. Fortunately I have some hardy Scottish Highlander stock on the other side.


Roxanne Richardson March 1, 2012 at 5:37 pm

I’ve lived here in Minnesota for 23 years. My brother (who lived here as well in that first year) and I figured we were the only ones in our family who had lived here. My grandmother grew up in Iowa, we knew that, but she moved to California in her 20′s. Both my parents are native Californians. I grew up all over the Midwest, after my newlywed parents came here for grad school.

Turns out both my father’s grandmothers were born here. One of my g2grandfathers is buried 8 miles from my house. A great-great-grand aunt lived in an apartment with her twin daughters 8 blocks from my first apartment.

Both sides of my family have lines that go back to the 1620s. On both sides, the families seem to have settled in sort of one area for several generations, and then as land opened up, they moved to the Midwest and stayed for several generations, then they moved further west. Once they hit the Pacific, they seem to have backtracked to the Midwest again.

I’ve been surprised not just to see that I have family history here, but to see that 150 years ago I had ancestors on my dad’s side living 15-20 miles away from ancestors on my mom’s side, but it took another 100 years for the families to connect, and it was 2000 miles away.


Jacqi March 1, 2012 at 5:44 pm

Yeah, I guess I inherited the itchy feet gene, too. I’m 3,000 miles from the city where my Valentine’s forebears settled. Other side of the family followed suit. Then again, some branches didn’t. I say it’s a personal thing, too.

I imagine your Johann might have had some letter writers in his family giving him the scoop as to where the “hot” (er…cold) spots were for German settlers in the New World. It’s amazing to see the stuff people back then discussed in letters. That’s my choice for explaining how some of my ancestors made a beeline from NYC to the outback of their choice.


Debi Austen March 1, 2012 at 5:45 pm

I’d say my family has pretty much stayed put for 150ish years.

My paternal grandparents lived in the same house for 50+ years. My maternal grandmother was born in the same city and lived within a few miles of these grandparents her entire life.

My parents bought their home in 1957 and my mom still lives there today. It is within 50 miles of just about every other important city that my dad’s grandparents and their parents lived in. And those folks moved to those cities right when they got off the boat in the mid 1850′s.

We’ve lived in the same area we moved to in 1980 and lived in one house until 2007 when we moved about 10 miles away.

I do not have the wanderlust gene. Just plunk me down and I’ll stay put until you drag me out kicking and screaming.


Elizabeth P March 1, 2012 at 6:02 pm

Some of my family has been in NJ since before it was NJ, and though I have lived in other places, I consider it home. I like New England, and California as well, maybe for me it is about being on the coastline. My husband’s Italian Immigrants have been the same, they didn’t move around a lot!


Greta Koehl March 1, 2012 at 6:55 pm

Oh, great, now I’ve got the John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt jingle in my head.

We called it “itchy feet” in my family, too.

My ancestors all ended up in Texas, but started out in Vermont, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. I had itchy feet when I was young (California/Texas to Washington, D.C. and Boston) but lost them as an adult – lived in the same house in Virginia for 30 years. But, yeah, I had a set of ancestors just a county over from where I now live, so I guess I did end up where my ancestors started.


Donna March 1, 2012 at 7:03 pm

Before my dudes hopped on boats, the majority came from towns in which their families had lived for hundreds of years. Then some hopped on boats and chose Philadelphia. A fair number of their descendants are still here though some moved about. My parents have lived in the same house since 1961. I lived there for my first 35 years and live about 10 miles away for the last ten years. But I have itchy feet….for me it takes the form of travel. I have to get up and go and see….but I always come back home. I will complain forever about the climate, the drivers, the city government, the traffic, and the sports teams losing championships. But for some reason (until I find a warmer place and a lifelong companion to go there), this is home.


Cynthia Shenette March 1, 2012 at 7:28 pm

No itchy feet here. My great-grandparents move to the city were I grew up in 1900. My mom and grandmother lived in two different neighborhoods in that time. The last time they changed neighborhoods was in 1940. The house where I grew up was the house they bought in 1940. I was the last of the family to move out of the city. Now I live 10 minutes away. Big move. We are upstarts compared to my in-laws. They’ve been in the same house in upstate NY since around 1800.


Cheryll Holley March 1, 2012 at 8:31 pm

No itchy feet for me. My Native ancestors have been here since before recorded time and my African ancestors since the 1700s. I did live in DC for ten years after college but moved back to Massachusetts more than 20 years ago. However….most of my 9 siblings did move out of New England years ago and have yet to return.


Julie O'Malley March 1, 2012 at 11:20 pm

My dude on a boat in 1847 was Thomas Ryan from Ireland, and he and his gang wound up in Brown County, Wisconsin! Wonder if they ever rubbed elbows with the Scheibers! We moved around Illinois and Ontario when I was a kid, and are scattered around North America now. I’ve been in Mass. since college. And in 1993 I married a guy who was fresh off the boat from Ireland. Our kids (15 and 17), on the other hand, have lived in the same town their whole lives.


Dr. Bill (William L.) Smith March 1, 2012 at 11:23 pm

You ask a great question… and, that is one reason so many of us love family history and genealogy… to find the answers to that question for our families!
By the way, I came over to your blog, just last evening, wondering if my feed was not getting some of your posts… guess you ‘heard’ me.. THANKS! ;-)


Jennifer March 2, 2012 at 12:31 am

My husband is in the Army, so we’re in a new place every 1-4 years. Moving again this June! :) I get the itch to move also and I’m wondering what on earth I’ll do when he retires and we are expected to stay in one place!


Cheryl Cayemberg March 2, 2012 at 7:24 am

My ancestors moved to a small coal mining region in Pennsylvania and stayed there. My sisters and I were the first to leave. My husband’s family (Belgian and German) moved to Wisconsin and pretty much stayed in Wisconsin, although they did move within Wisconsin from time to time. We’re in Texas, but as soon as we retire (or find a military related job close to Wisconsin) we’ll be moving to Green Bay!


Mary Beth Marion March 2, 2012 at 8:43 am

So funny that you posted on this — I have found the same thing as I have begun my genealogy detective work. My family, on both my mother’s and father’s side, seem to be folks who found a place they liked, and stuck with it … until my generation or just before. My father’s family, the Stewardsons, came from England to the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia, and stayed there, until my grandfather came to Richmond during the depression. My mother’s family, the Sheltons, also came from England, to Pittsylvania County, and stayed … and stayed, and stayed, and stayed, until my grandfather became a truck driver and moved to Richmond. We really have no wanderers, travelers, gypsies, or itchy feet-ers. Virginia is where we stopped and there we stayed. Period. I’m sort of bummed, even though it does kind of simplify things when you’re trying to track down records.


Susan Graben March 2, 2012 at 11:54 am

For the most part, my direct line ancestors stayed in NC where they settled from other areas in the 1770s. But their families…..uh uh….about 1832 there seemed to have been a mass exodus out of Rutherford Co. They went to GA, to AL, to MS and on toward TX by the wagonload. Of course, when I moved to AL 35 years ago I said I had no relatives here. Famous last words. They are all over the place….I just need to find them.


Sue Adams March 2, 2012 at 1:21 pm

In more recent times it would be a dude on a plane. My dudes on a plane parents took me all around Africa during childhood. After returning to Britain and leaving home, I settled just 30 miles from one bunch of ancestors, but had no idea I had returned to the ancestral area at the time. They seem to go back at least 250 years in the same village.


Amy March 2, 2012 at 1:57 pm

I’ve noticed a pattern in my family tree that there was always one person in the family who left for greener pastures. My great-great grandfather left 8 siblings in Minnesota to move to Oklahoma. My great-grandfather on the other side moved away from the family in Louisiana. Now I’m the one who jumped the California ship for Texas. It definitely runs in the family.


Rondina Muncy March 2, 2012 at 2:35 pm

There are some ancestors in my family that seemed to move just for the thrill of building another log cabin. However, the person that has moved more than anyone is my own father. His parents seemed to have moved around the same neighborhood in Dallas his entire childhood. My uncle said he thinks that they were skipping out on the rent, but I don’t think so. Moving two streets away isn’t far enough for that. Maybe they were just looking for a better deal. Their habit was so bad it reminds me of the old “Moving Day” custom in NYC (Feb 1). This habit continued well into his adult life. Only after age 70 did he finally cut this out.


Kevin Subra March 2, 2012 at 2:37 pm

My g-g-g grandfather came from France and settled in the NW part of NY (near Cape Vincent, Jefferson County, NY on Lake Ontario and near Kingston, Ontario). He married a French gal after arriving. At least some settled in that heavily French area when encouraged to do by Vincent LeRay, who promised land and a cabin. They lived there from the 1830s to the early 1860s.

They migrated to Fond du Lac County in Wisconsin in 1861 or 1862, maybe hoping for better prospects (the land in Jefferson County, NY is very poor for farming).

Both sons joined WI units in the Civil War, one losing his life in the conflict, and prior to marriage. My g-g grandfather, upon being mustered out of the WI cavalry, and after the death of his father, migrated further west, receiving land grants in Dodge County, MN.

My g-g grandfather moved to Benton County, IA for 10 years, and then back to Dodge County where he remained for the rest of his life. Some of the family is still in the general vicinity (Albert Lea, Austin, Chatfield).


Leslie Ann March 2, 2012 at 4:26 pm

All the dudes in boats on my dad’s side were Mormon converts. They came over to be with other converts. They made their pioneer treks to Utah and eventually settled the Bear Lake Valley in Idaho.

One set of gr-great-grandparents were sent to Wyoming to settle there. Only one of their children came back to Bear Lake, my great-grandmother Hazel Madsen Piggott.

I have one uncle and two aunts that still live there. The rest of them flew the coop. Eventually I would like to move back there. I feel more at peace there than anywhere else. Is it because my ancestors call me there? I don’t know. Maybe it’s just because it’s so beautiful and peaceful there.

I only know that living in Florida is for the birds!


jo March 3, 2012 at 12:10 am

For me it’s like your title. My ancestor got on a boat and met some new friends and decided he would go where his new friends were going. Then he met my great grandmother and married. My Husbans Jacob Johnsen had decided where he was going according to the Norwegian data from Christiania – sor Trondheim books. but then he must have chose his own course. No one seems to know what happened to him. If he met up with his brother and left, settled by some dude on the boat before he got to western wi. ??


JessB March 3, 2012 at 6:21 am

Wow, I haven’t gone far at all – I’m currently working 2 blocks from the hospital where I was born!

In a longer-term, family sense, my ancestors came to Australia from England during the gold rush- how cool! They landed in Melbourne, and travelled to the gold fields in Castlemaine, then came back to Melbourne when they’d made their fortune. We’ve got relatives in Castlemaine, and loads of us in Melbourne. I’ve stayed very close to my family, and still live in the same suburb, as my Mum and Dad, and as my grandparents. I love the connection we have with this area.


Heather Wilkinson Rojo March 5, 2012 at 9:40 am

You are correct about New Englanders. I was born in Beverly, Massachusetts which used to be part of Salem (its right across the river from Salem). One of my ancestors came off the Mayflower and settled in Salem. The rest came with the Winthrop Fleet and various other boats and settled in Beverly or Salem. The latest two were a Dutch stowaway to the Salem ropeworks from Rotterdam in the 1820s, and then my grandmother came through Ellis Island in 1915 to join her sister in Beverly. So we’ve lived there almost 400 years, all arriving by boats. Various ancestors went up to other states (ooooooh, all the way to NH or Maine) and came back to Massachusetts. One branch went all the way to Nova Scotia and came back (look on a map, Nova Scotia is actually just across the gulf of Maine from the North Shore of Massachusetts). We are real stick-in-the-muds! Then I married my husband, whose parents arrived in America in January 1960 by jet from Spain!


Jennifer Holik March 5, 2012 at 1:33 pm

I was born in the same area as my ancestors who got off the boat – Chicagoland. Moved away as a child but escaped and moved back to Chicagoland 13 years ago. I live here because it is home – the energy in the city I cannot live without. It is where my family planted themselves and grew deep roots over 120 years ago. I live here because there is a lot of opportunity. And it would take something really big to ever make me leave again.


Linda Gartz March 7, 2012 at 1:20 pm

My grandparents on both sides came to Chicago in 1911 (paternal) and 1914 or so (maternal). I’m still in the area. Roots. Not lots of money when time to go to college to wander around the U.S. In fact I commuted to Northwestern — NOT a commuter school, so was quite out of it. Brothers went to U of IL in Chgo & IIT –then skedaddled to the west coast; then east coast; then west coast. Jobs for them. Jobs for me & hubby here too. All friends here. I was the only one left for my parents, which was pretty nice for them (and me) after my dad had a serious stroke. Wouldn’t leave. It’s a great city and now all my life-long friends are here. Maybe out for 2 months in the winter some day, but this is home.


C.T. Kruger March 7, 2012 at 10:32 pm

My dude – and dudette – settled in Minnesota. Of their four surviving children (just found out three did not..), two bore children. One headed west and that branch stretches from Montana to Seattle. The other stayed put and All of his descendants are in the Midwest within an hour to four-hour drive to the homestead.

However, if I want wanderlust, there was ol’ James Shelby Green – New York state to Iowa to Missouri to Oklahoma to New Mexico. Wonder to this day if wife Sarah ever unpacked…


Barb Starmans March 8, 2012 at 7:57 pm

Interesting question! Funny, but I’ve always thought of my ‘dudes on the boat’ as recent immigrants to Canada but as I do the math, my grandparents came to Canada from England in 1894, 1905 and 1913 which makes it 118, 107 and 99 years ago respectively. My children tell me that this is NOT recently!

My 1894 ancestor settled in Montreal, Quebec but her son came to Toronto in 1916. The rest came directly to Toronto and I’m still here, about 10 miles north of the city proper but I still think of my ancestors’ homes as across the ocean in England, not here in Canada.


Dee March 11, 2012 at 7:20 am

We Burrises have been in Arkansas since 1838. Starting with my dad’s generation, we’ve left for other places, stayed there a while and come back.

My dad lives on a parcel of the original land patent my great-great granddad got when he settled here. There is something indescribable about walking the same trails and rutted roads my ancestors walked. It’s home.


Ann Gilchrest December 3, 2012 at 7:58 am

I have gypsy feet and a wondering soul! I have dudes that got off the boat and stayed in NY others went the MN and on to CA, some went to PA and stayed. My direct lines seems to contain the wonder lust gene. My dad was in the Air Force so I grew up everywhere, lived in the states, lived overseas. By the time I was a year old I had lived in CA, and SD, took a trip to NY then on my first birthday flew from Chicago to San Francisco. A couple of months later I took a troop ship to Alaska. I haven’t stopped.
I retired in 2006 at the age of 50. For the last 6 years I haven’t lived anywhere for very long. That first year I spent 4 months in Europe researching. Came back to the States and bought an RV, much more comfortable than hotel rooms. I have been living fulltime in the RV following the evidence.


Kerry Scott December 3, 2012 at 8:42 am

Living in an RV and following the evidence is pretty much my retirement dream!


Trish March 28, 2014 at 4:44 pm

I also am living in the RV and following the paper trail for my great and gg grandfathers in Texas. One of my more exciting finds here, I found out I still have a 94 year old great aunt and I have been able to meet with her about 4 times. I love her…..


Dennis Turner March 27, 2014 at 7:11 pm

My dude on a boat landed in Shrewsbury NJ in 1675. Actually he landed in New York, which is right across the bay. In 1680 he bought land there. My mother was born on that same piece of property in 1915. Some of my family still live there. Not itchy feet at all.


Ann Gillespie October 4, 2014 at 7:40 am

My friends like to tease me that my family didn’t migrate. My mother’s earliest immigrant ancestor got to Jamestown in 1613. It took until 1840 to get from there to a farm in what would become SW West Virginia – the same farm my mother grew up on. My father’s family got a little further. The earliest immigrant arrived in New Amsterdam around 1650, worked their way to Bucks County, PA over the next couple of generations, and then stayed there for 4 or 5 generations before one of them moved to Philadelphia, to the same neighborhood where my father was born a couple of generations later. My most recent immigrants on both sides came over too early to have gone through Castle Garden or Ellis Island, though a couple of them came over late enough to show up on a ship’s manifest. My parents only met because my father, the first one in his family to graduate from high school also became the first to go to college and he went to Virginia, near where my mom lived, for college and they were set up on a blind date. They moved around during WWII for his job and then settled in Pennsylvania near his family, where first we grew up in the house they built and then a sister bought the house and raised her kids in the same house. Clearly we have many generations of itchy feet built up, because my sibs and I have lived all over the US and even into Canada for a few years. Somehow a sister and I have both ended up, for now, in Virginia close to our mother’s roots, the first time we’ve lived in the same state in about 20 years. I have a little more research to do, but I think my sister may live on land once owned by an 8th great-grandfather, so our itchy feet have brought us home and I guess that proves my family really never migrated.


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