Family migration patterns: Roane family migration to Pennsylvania

My apologies for this being a rather long article. It goes to show just how many of the Roane family from Virginia migrated to Pennsylvania in general and Philadelphia in partcular!  The rest of my posts in this series will be much shorter.

So grab a coffee or a tea…and enjoy a leisurely read.

African-American Roanes, like the Sheffeys, had their own Diaspora from Virginia between the 1920s and 1930s. Like the Sheffeys, many Roanes went to Philadelphia and Baltimore. There the similarity between these two families ends. While the Sheffeys would opt for West Virginia, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana  – and to a lesser extent the Mid-West states – the Roanes left Virginia for New York, New Jersey, Delaware and points further north in New England.

Philadelphia proved to be a very popular destination of choice for Roanes leaving their native Virginia counties. To say Philadelphia was not kind to them would be a colossal understatement. It literally killed them. Of all the Roane populations I’ve studied, those in Philadelphia fared the worst: premature deaths (if they made it past their twenties they were lucky), excessively high infant mortality rates and stillbirths plagued them. This dynamic seems to have established itself as soon as the first Roane migrants arriving from Virginia around 1880.

The transition from rural to urban could not have been an easy one. Mostly farmers in their native Virginia; living in densely populated neighbourhoods with poor air quality and sanitation must have been contributing factors. Whatever stresses may have prompted their migration from a largely agrarian Virginia seems to have been replaced with entirely new and alien sources of stress for which they were simply not prepared for. In this they were representative of typical agrarian populations adjusting to a new industrialised reality.

I’m left with the question of why so many Roanes followed in their cousins’ wake and continued to arrive in Philadelphia in droves…especially if they were aware of cousins dying young.

Of course this is the sister question to what was it about Philadelphia that enticed the first group of Roanes to settle there in the first place.

There were Roanes who moved to Philadelphia as a family group. They tended to initially live together in a shared household before establishing households of their own. These would appear to be in the minority. Scanning through the census records, most didn’t live near any other Roanes (this includes families associated with Roanes through marriage). Perhaps this has to do with the nature of cities. Cities don’t lend themselves to family groups occupying close quarters – people tend to live wherever there’s space available. What I did tend to note, in general terms, is these family groups tended to live in close proximity to other families from Virginia.

Another small side note worth mentioning. The Roanes I’ve tracked from Virginia to Philadelphia didn’t live in an exclusively black neighbourhood. White and black lived side by side through the early 1900s – at least in Philadelphia. The turn-of-the-century African-American Roanes lived next door to white families from American and immigrant families from Ireland, England and Europe.

The occupations of the Roanes in Philadelphia were pretty much what you would expect for that era. Male Roanes tended to work on the docks, on ships, on the railroad or as general labourers. The women were domestics.

The summary below will provide you with an overview of the numbers which relocated to Philadelphia, While I only site the heads of households, the majority of the men cited had wives and children who accompanied them – many sharing in the same dismal fate of a short life expectancy.


Roanes from unknown counties in Virginia

James Henry Roane (1879-?), parents and county of birth unknown, moved to Philadelphia around 1919 (WWI draft card) with his family. Interestingly, while he’s not living near other Roanes, he is living next door to Hills from Virginia. In 1920 he’s working for the Railroad.

Edward Roane’s (1856-?) county of birth in Virginia is unknown as are the names of his parents. However, at the time of his death he is recorded as resident in Philadelphia. He was buried in Richmond which might suggest he is a Henrico County, VA Roane. The online death record indicated he was married at the time of his death but doesn’t name his wife.

Arlie Roane (1888-1914), daughter of Richard L Roane and Arkansas “Sarah” Coleman (county unknown), is resident in Philadelphia at the time of her death.

ALBEMARLE County Roanes
Alexander Roane (1872-?), son of Watson Roane (1852-?) and wife Eliza, was resident in Philadelphia by the time of his marriage in 1897. In the 1900 census he’s listed as a stevedore. He’s not living near other Roanes or families associated with the Roanes through marriage. By 1910 he’s been promoted to Longshoreman. He’s still not living near to any Roanes, nor is he in 1920.

ESSEX County Roanes

Nearly half of Henry Clay Roane (1855-?) and wife Mary Eliza Dix’s children left for Philadelphia:

  • Daniel W Roane (1871-1913) was resident in Philadelphia at the time of his marriage in 1907. At the time of his death he is cited as being a fireman. In 1910 he and his wife are living a few houses down from her relations. He’s listed as being a labourer in a brickyard.
  • Henry Clay Roane Jr (1882-2003) was resident in Philadelphia around 1910 (census). He’s listed as a gardener for a private family. Henry is resident in Pittsburgh at the time of his death.
  • Viola Roane (1891-?) was also resident in Philadelphia around 1920. She’s a cook and living with a Gatewood aunt.

Lawrence “Lallie” Roane (1875-1908), son of Turner Roane (1870-1894) and wife Molly Payne, was resident in Philadelphia at the time of his death. I can’t find him in the 1900 Census records, which would tell me who he was living with in Philadelphia.

Robert Roane (1830-1895) and wife Octavia had 2 children leave:

  • Eugene Roane (1873-1909) arrived in Philadelphia between 1910 and 1920 (census) where he’s a waiter.
  • Charles Henry Roane (1868-1937) didn’t leave for Pennsylvania, He moved his family to Baltimore around 1900 (census) and then established himself and his family in Des Moines, Iowa by 1910 (census)

Payne Roane (1866-1926), son of Wyatt Roane (1840-?) and wife Sarah Ross, was resident in Philadelphia at the time of his death. I have been unable to find him in the 1900, 1910 or 1920 census records.

KING AND QUEEN County Roanes

Doctor David Lawrence “Lattie” Roane (1886-1957), son of Jacob L Roane (1832-1893) and wife Lucy T Holmes of Allentown, was resident in Philadelphia in 1930 (census) where he’s working for the railroad.

Alexander Roane (1903-?), son of Clarence Roane (1878-?) and wife Carrie  of Newtown,  left Virginia sometime after the 1920 Census. He’s recorded as resident in Philadelphia by the time of the 1930 Census and working in a paper mill. He is not living near any Roanes or families connected to the Roanes through marriage.

Alexander Roane (1865-1929) and wife Bettie Broaddus of Buena Vista had 2 children leave for Pennsylvania:

  • Joshua Roane (1891-?) left for Philadelphia at some point between 1910 and 1920 with his family. In 1910 he’s working in a lumber yard and in 1920 he’s working for a transit company. There are no other Roanes living nearby.
  • Annie Roane (1908-?) followed her brother to Philadelphia between 1920 and 1930. She is living with her brother and his family in 1930.

Patrick Roane (1854-?) and wife Lucy A Gaines of the 39th District, King & Queen County, had 2 children leave for Pennsylvania:

  • Ida Roane (1873-1898) was resident in Philadelphia at the time of her death. With the 1890 census missing, it’s impossible to know who she was living with and/or if any family members were living nearby.
  • Leana Roane (1876-1898) was resident in Philadelphia at the time of her death. As with her sister Ida, it’s impossible to know who she lived with.

At present, I haven’t been able to place Patrick Roane’s family line or Joshua and Annie Roane’s family lines into the overall family tree. This makes it difficult to assess if these three Roane family groups were closely related. Did they share a common ancestor? This lack of information also makes it difficult to gauge or if there were close ties between them.

KING WILLIAM County Roanes

An unknown Roane with wife Louisa/Apphia of King William County had 3 children leave for Philadelphia:

  • Patrick Henry Roane (1857-?) was resident in Philadelphia by the time of the 1900 Census.
  • Beverly Roane (1871-?) was resident in Philadelphia by the time of the 1900 Census.
  • George W Roane’s (1876-1900) death was recorded in Philadelphia

This makes this cluster of King William County Roanes early arrivals in Philadelphia. These family members moved as a group and lived together in 1900. By 1910, Patrick and Beverly had established their own respective households.

Wallace Roane (1855-1913), son of James Augustus Roane and Sarah Pollard, was resident in Philadelphia around 1880 (census).

Julia Roane (1860-1909), daughter of Wallace Roane (1812-?) and wife Ellen, was resident in Philadelphia at the time of her death.

Julia Roane was Wallace Roane’s aunt.

Caroline “Carrie” Roane (1885-1905), daughter of Horace Roane (1847-?) of Mangohick District, was resident in Philadelphia at the time of her death. She arrived in Philadelphia at some point between 1900 (Census) and 1905.

It’s worth noting that all of the Roanes from King William county were amongst the earliest Roanes to move to Philadelphia.

Philip Ransome Roane (1893-?), son of Henry Roane (1854-?) and Rachel Butler, moved to Delaware County, PA around 1930 with his family.

MIDDLESEX County Roanes

Lloyd L Roane (1899-?), son of William Roane (1873-?) and wife Frances, arrived in Philadelphia at some time between 1920 and 1930 (census).


Dorsey Roane (1855-?) and wife Alice R Thompson had 2 children leave for Philadelphia:

  • Alonzo Roane (1889-?) was resident in Westmoreland County at the time of the 1920 Census. By the 1930 Census, he was resident in Montgomery County, PA.
  • William Morris Roane (1888-1960) was resident in Philadelphia at the time of his death.

Richard Roane (1849-?) and wife Lucinda Johnson of Cople, VA had 2 children leave for Philadelphia:

  • John Philips Roane (1878-?) and his brother Richard Lee Roane (1880-?) both arrived in Philadelphia between 1900 (census) and 1910 (census).

Thomas Roane (1898-?) and brother Richard Roane (1902-?) of Cople, parents unknown, were resident in Philadelphia in 1930 (census). They share a house with Joseph Roane (1896-?) who may be the son of Anthony Roane (1861-?) and wife Elizabeth Eskridge.

Over the next few days, I’ll be posting about Roane family moves to Delaware, Connecticut, Massachusetts, new York, New Jersey & Arkansas. While nowhere near the same scale as the extended family’s move to Philadelphia, these smaller migrations build a bigger picture of a southern African-American family on the move north and west.

3 thoughts on “Family migration patterns: Roane family migration to Pennsylvania

  1. What about Enock and Marie Braxton Roane parents of Ernest Eugene Roane,which would be my great and great ,great grandparents. I can’t seem to get much Information on them

  2. Im sorry that would be Enock and Merick Roane my GG and Ernest Eugene and Marie Braxton Roane

    1. Hi Stuart

      Thank you for getting in touch. The only information I have for Enock and Merick Roane + Ernest Eugene and Marie Braxton Roane are census returns and marriage records. For instance, it looks like Ernest Eugene was born in Henry District, Hanover, VA and lived there until the 1910 census. I’m not sure when he moved to Mechanicsville, Hanover, VA. With Eoch Roane, he was born in Stevensville, King & Queen County, VA and lived there until his marriage to Merick in 1886. By 1900, he’s living in Hanover County, VA. I do have details for his parents: Richard Roane (1816-?) and Caroline Taylor (1828-?). That’s as far as I’ve been able to trace his line back with any certainty. There are a number of Roanes born between 1770 and the 1820s living in King and Queen County. My preseumption is that they’re related (ar at least most of them are releated to each other). However, at this point, I’ve been unable to connect the dots between these family groups to see how they’re related.

      Perhaps you can answer a question that’s been puzzling me. I have two marriages for him: one to Merick (1886) and another to Kessey Braxton (1887). I’ve been assuming that Kessey is a nickname for Merrick. Does that sound right to you? Is this the same person?

      It’s not much – but I hope that even this little bit helps.

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