US Migration Canals

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United States  >  Migration  >  Canals

Historic Background

Canal traffic in the United states helped connect isolated rural areas to urban population centers from 1820 until the spread of railroads about 1860. Settlers flooded into regions serviced by such canals and the waterways they connected, since access to markets was available. The Erie Canal connected New York City to the Great Lakes. The Illinois and Michigan Canal connected the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River system. Pennsylvania combined canals and railroads. New Jersey, Maryland, Ohio, and Indiana also built canals that were inviting to settlers.[1]

Understanding the transportation systems available to ancestors can help genealogists better guess their place of origin. Connect the place where an ancestor settled to the nearby canals, waterways, trails, roads, and railroads to look for connections to places they may have lived previously.

List of Significant Canals

Some of the most significant canals to American settlers were:

Chronological List of United States Canals Used by Settlers
Name Date Opened Origin Destination
Erie Canal
1825/1832 Albany, New York (Hudson River)
Buffalo, New York (Lake Erie)
Ohio and Erie Canal 1828/1832 Cleveland, Ohio (Lake Erie)
Portsmouth, Ohio (Ohio River)
Chesapeake and Ohio Canal
1836 Georgetown, D.C. Cumberland, Maryland
Illinois and Michigan Canal 1848 Chicago, Illinois (Lake Michigan) Peru, Illinois (Illinois River)


  1. Wikipedia contributors, "Canal" in Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia at (accessed 22 June 2009).