A 1920s Diaspora

One of my abilities, something I have developed during the course of my professional life is recognising relationships and themes within large amounts of data and information.  It’s an ability that lends itself to studying my family tree. I also love a good mystery. Ferreting out deeper truths and understanding of processes, dynamics and movements is personally rewarding.

One thing I’ve noticed when researching my family is something akin to a mini Diaspora in the 1930s amongst my southern ancestors and extended relations. Sheffey, Roane, Matthews/Mathis or Turner – regardless of the name, family groups split apart, left their historic birthplaces and scattered along the Eastern seaboard. Most moved North.

My Sheffey grandfather and his wife, a Roane, moved from Virginia to New Jersey at some point after 1920.  My Turner grandfather (along with his mother and sisters) left their native Maryland for Washington D.C.  His wife, a Matthews, and her siblings, left their native North Carolina for the metropolitan Washington D.C. area and New Jersey.

Looking at the census records, fewer and fewer of my grandfather Sheffey’s immediate or extended family remained in Wytheville (Virginia) or Wythe County from the 1920s onward.  Scant few remain there now.  However, during the course of his life, this grandfather would return to his native Wytheville during the course of his life, Indeed, it is where he died in the 1950s. It’s also the final resting place of his parents. His eldest brother Crockett enlisted in the army and spent his life in Arizona.  His other brothers and sisters moved elsewhere along the Mid-Atlantic part of the Eastern seaboard – as did his uncles. Whether they returned or not is unknown.

My Roane ancestors, for the most part, left their historic birthplaces in Henrico County, Virginia and King & Queen County, Virginia.  While some relocated to other parts of Virginia in the 1920s, many went to live in Maryland and, again, along the Mid-Atlantic part of the Eastern seaboard.

The Matthews/Mathis family from Edgefield County, South Carolina has the most marked dispersion.  From the early 1900s onward, the larger Matthews/Mathis family left South Carolina en masse, settling all along the Eastern seaboard from Florida to New York – as well as Texas.

The twenty year period after the end of the civil war was a stable period for all four families.  For the most part, they remained in their historic birthplaces.  Immediate and extended families lived near to one another.  I hazard to guess that due to proximity over those post-war decades, the familial bonds were close ones. Indeed, it wasn’t unheard of for cousins within each family to marry.  And then in a matter of years, those familiar bonds were unravelled in the advent of a wholesale exodus.

The 1920s were a relatively stable economic period.  There were boom and bust periods – but nothing on the scale of what was to come in the Depression Era of the 1930s.  So a large-scale economic reason seems unlikely.  If it wasn’t prompted economic factors, then what could lead to the wholesale displacement of entire families?  Was it a series of Russian style Progroms based on race?  That too seems unlikely.  Many of the branches of these four families chose remained in the South, indeed, many of the Matthews/Mathis branches moved into the Deep South.

There’s a mystery here.  I’m certainly intrigued.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: