I'm looking into my family history, and I'm gradually working my way through the 19th century. The levels of migration up and down the country during this time, at least in my family and from my research, are staggering.

As I work my way back, I'm wondering if these trends will continue pre-Industry ie 1650-1780 and whether people moved around as much during that time period. Are there any stats that show levels of insular migration during this time?


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I've also been researching my family history, and my family seems to be another one with "itchy feet". I've traced a few lines back to the civil war, and - although the distances involved seem to be getting smaller the further back I get - there is still no sign of them settling in one place yet.

One of the best recent books that I have seen on the subject of insular migration in Britain is Ian D. Whyte's Migration and Society in Britain 1550–1830. It's fairly pricey, so you might want to see if you can get a copy through your local library. The preview on Google Books gives a good flavour of the book's content though.

Until the 1960s most historians seen to have accepted that the population of Britain in pre-industrial times was relatively immobile. The idea was that most people were born, lived and died in the same, geographical localised, community. This was certainly what I was taught in school in the 1960s and 1970s.

However, from the mid 1960s, studies of parish register demography and parish registers, for example Julian Cornwall's 1967 paper in the Journal of Institute of Historical Research [Cornwall, 1967], began to reveal that migration was much more frequent than had previously been supposed. As further research was carried out, it showed that, for many of our ancestors, insular migration can be thought of as the norm, rather than the exception.

Over the last 30 years, research into insular migration has pushed further back in time, into the medieval period. Studies have been carried out on data as far back as the fourteenth century. This has revealed that there was considerable mobility in English society, even before the arrival of the Black Death (for example, [Field, 1983] and [Poos, 1991]).

Studies of early population movements have also been carried for Wales and Scotland. These have revealed similar patterns of migration to those seen in England. The 1536 'Act of Union' between England and Wales effectively made Wales a region of England. This seems to have had the effect of making migration easier for people living in Wales. There is even evidence of relatively large-scale migration from Wales to Scotland in the period immediately after the 1536 Act [Williams, 1987].

Evidence for the Scottish highlands is, unfortunately, relatively scant. However, a number of studies (for example, [Houston, 1985], [Jones, 1986]; and [Whyte, 1997]) have demonstrated significant levels of mobility in lowland Scotland in the pre-industrial period.

The sources that I've listed below are by no means meant to be exhaustive, but they should give a good flavour of what we know about pre-industrial migration patterns in England, Scotland and Wales.


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