Shifting his eyes from corner to corner, Henry smiled as he recalled the first time he and his brother John walked through the old wooden building. Shelves broken from wear and the floor smothered with dirt, Henry and John poured their sweat into every inch of the little shop. Both men radiated with pride when they finally placed their sign in the front window: Commerce Dry Goods Store-Open For Business.
As Henry popped open the brass cash register, three of the village's older gents sauntered inside. "What's this about you leavin' Commerce?" Jack Thompson remarked to Henry as the three men approached the counter.
"Yea, your blood is in this old store," Tom O'Mallory quipped as he nodded with the rest.
"I have to fella's. You know what things are like right now. I can't afford to keep her open any more. The economy's getting bad and so many of the townsfolk are out of work...I just can't keep her open." Henry's voice cracked as he spoke. His heart was buried deep into the walls of the old building but he knew at the end of the day; he would turn the lock for the last time.
My ancestor, Henry Clark, sold his dry goods store and properties, moving his young family from the quaint village of Commerce, Michigan to Rolla, Missouri in the late 1870's. Purchasing several hundred acres of land to farm in Missouri, the family remained until the last son died in 1940.
Genealogy unveils the migratory patterns of our ancestors and we often speculate the motives for their transitions. During the 1800's, the westward expansion brought many Americans to states such as Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa. The Federal Government began offering the parcels of land for homesteading. Some western states went so far as to advertise the beauty of their farmland, in order to entice people to populate their area.
But why would my ancestor sell the only dry goods store in the village of Commerce, Michigan to farm in Missouri?
Our ancestors and their decisions were guided by the economic times that they lived. In 1873 the largest bank in the United States failed. The price of silver spiraled downward and wage cuts led to labor turmoil resulting in the Long Depression. Soon came panic in the Stock Market.
The history of the economy has ebbed and flowed for centuries and our ancestors were affected just as we are today. Perhaps my ancestor was financially burdened by the expense of keeping a store afloat during a depression; cashing out to farming when the price of farmland was cheap.
Will I ever know the true reason for my ancestor's move? Most likely not. But looking at the financial and political environment he was living in can provide insight to the decisions he made.
Study the history of the economic environment of your ancestors in order to gain a deeper perspective for their life changes. They did not live in bubbles. Just as we are affected today by the economy, our ancestors also made decisions accordingly. Some migrated to other states in order to homestead federal land and still others, packed up to search for a better life in financially difficult times.
Remember, our ancestors were a piece of a much larger puzzle. Study the puzzle and you will gain a deeper understanding of their past.
Keep searching for answers,