ISU professor speaks about migration pattern and genealogy



Nic Wackerly

America thrives from its’ diverse culture. Whether you can trace your roots back to the Mayflower, a native tribe or only back a few generations, genealogy can provide insight to who you are and how you got here.

Paul Lasley, a professor of sociology at Iowa State University, spoke about migration patterns and the motivations for migrating at the Ames Public Library on Wednesday morning.

The lecture was part of a free series provided by the Story County Genealogical Society and Ames Public Library.

Lasley focused on when, where and why people migrated to Iowa and how understanding those aspects is crucial to genealogy.

“We need to link personal biography with the history of our families, who you are is dependent upon where your family came from […] understanding your roots, and tying your personal biography to these large scale historical trends,” Lasley said.

For Iowa, large scale historical trends include westward expansion and rural to urban migration. These are important genealogical trends because they help explain why people have moved to Iowa and why they have left, according to Lasley.

“More recently, the big issue in Iowa and around the Midwest is this rural to urban migration of people leaving the countryside and moving to the city,” Lasley said.

However, this issue is not a new one to the United States. The population has been migrating towards cities since the 1930s.

“We have to go back to about 1930 when there were equal numbers of urban and rural people living in the United States,” Lasley said.  

Currently, 80 percent of the population of the United States resides in urban areas, according to the 2010 U.S. census.

Understanding migration patterns and large historical trends is very important to help find genealogical information, but are also important in realizing why people have migrated from one place to another.

“Why people have decided to migrate and where tells a lot about our history and the people who have come before us,” said Bonnie Samuel, an organizer for the Story County Genealogical Society.  

Lasley finished his lecture explaining why genealogy and migration patterns are connected.

“In their migration stories is a wealth of understanding about their values and beliefs, their family identity, the stories of separation, their anxieties, the risk they took, the hardships they endured, and I believe it is those stories that should be preserved,” Lasley said.

The Genealogical Society works on providing education about how to do genealogy correctly and with a scholarly approach. Every month, excluding the summer, they put on an event in partnership with the Ames Public Library that is free to the public.

Their next event will be February 15th at the library. More information is available at