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Ask a Genealogist: Westward migration from Rowley, Massachusetts.

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We are trying to pin down when John Prime (b. 1785) and his brother, Nathaniel (b. 1792), left Rowley, MA, moved west. I found a book that said John was the first county recorder in Scott, Indiana and Nathaniel was a justice of the peace in 1820. Shortly thereafter, they moved to other counties within Indiana. Their brother, Daniel Noyes Prime, later indicated in a census that his brothers had moved west, and he writes about their move and his visit there in one of his books.

Might their departure have been noted in a local newspaper of the time? If so, what would be the most likely newspaper for their area and are those papers available somewhere (original or digitized)? It is possible John moved earlier due to the War of 1812, but so far I have found no documentation. Do you have suggestions where to look for that possibility? We wondered about tax rolls for Rowley in the early 1800's. Would they list John up until the time he departed? Where could we find those records? Any other suggestions?


The latter 1700s and the early 1800s see major migrations from New England to the newly opened Midwest. In many genealogies, those families that did this, if they could not be easily identified, were listed as simply “going west.” You at least have found some information about John and Nathaniel that can be assessed dates and you also know exact places.

Scott County, Indiana was created in 1820 out of pieces of Clark, Jackson, Jefferson, Jennings and Washington Counties. Understanding the origins of the county where an ancestor ends up is important as this identifies potential additional places that need to be searched to verify whether or not an ancestor arrived earlier than originally expected to a particular state or area. Identifying creation dates can be done either through the use of online avenues, such as Wikipedia, or books such Red Book, American State, County and Town Sources (Provo, Utah: Ancestry, 2004).

In the case of John and Nathaniel Prime, it appears that they may have been already in the area by 1820, given that Nathaniel was a justice of the peace in 1820, and that is the year that Scott County was split off. So you now have some new counties to investigate for potential arrival information.

When working in the counties, you will want to search the land records. Many of those who migrated to the Midwest did so in search of cheap land. Some of them were brought there through bounty land (earned during service in the American Revolution or the War of 1812), though they may be the child or grandchild of the original bounty land earner. Such bounty land case files can prove a wealth of genealogical information as proof of rightful descent was required. Some bounty land case files contain Bible records or other genealogically relevant documents.

In addition to searching the land records of the other counties, you will also want to search the land records database of the Bureau of Land Management ( to see if any individuals with the Prime surname purchased land directly from the government. When the U.S. Constitution was ratified, many of the original colonies had claims to land that ultimately became states such as Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. This land was relinquished to the newly formed U.S. government who then sold parts of it to earn the operating capital they needed to fund their cash-poor, infant government. Once property was purchased from the government and then sold it is found in the usual land records of the county that existed at the time of the sale.

You will definitely want to look at the town records and the treasurer’s accounts for the town of Rowley. These records are not available online, but they have been microfilmed by the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. You can borrow the microfilms to your local FamilySearch Center. To find out more about this and to see what other records they have online for Rowley, you will want to visit their website <>. The Treasurer’s accounts that have been microfilmed cover the years 1731-1820. The Town records begin in 1648, and volume five concludes in 1832, which is past the time your family members have moved on to Indiana.

Town records can prove useful as you can often see if your ancestor was serving in some capacity, such as on the town council or in some other civic office. If he is all of a sudden no longer listed, you can use that as a potential exit year.

Land records for Essex County, Massachusetts should also be searched to see if either John or Nathaniel sold land. The date of the sale of land could also serve as an exit year.

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