Ohio Family History Research
This entry was originally written by Carol L. Maki and Michael John Neill for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.
History of Ohio
René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle, the French explorer, traveled through Ohio land in 1667 and is thought to have been the first white person to see the Ohio River. Eighty years later, in 1747, the Ohio Company of Virginia was organized to colonize the Ohio River Valley, leading to the creation of the Ohio Land Company two years later. Great Britain gained control of the region following the French and Indian War in 1763, but lost it again in 1779.
The establishment of Northwest Territory in 1787 marked the beginning of a steady stream of migration. Scots-Irish from Virginia, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania settled mainly in Marietta in Washington County. New Englanders and Revolutionary War soldiers, most of them from Massachusetts and Connecticut, arrived in that same area. They were followed by settlers from Essex County, New Jersey, who located in Cincinnati in an area called the Symmes Purchase. French immigrants settled in Gallipolis, Gallia County, from 1790 through 1791. Additional Connecticut migrations occurred from 1796 to 1797, settling in the Connecticut Western Reserve. Others from Connecticut and Vermont settled in what became Geauga County three years later. Clermont County was the new home of settlers from Maine in 1796, the same year that emigrants from Scotland arrived in Montgomery County. In 1796 the Refugee Tract was established in Columbus for Canadians who sympathized with the American Revolution. Three years later Ohio Territory was created, followed in 1800 by the first Ohio territorial census and the opening of the first land offices at Marietta, Steubenville, Chillicothe, and Cincinnati. The territory became a state in 1803.
The influx of new settlers continued, with Germans and Welsh from Pennsylvania, plus additional migrations from Kentucky and Virginia. In 1803 Ohio obtained statehood. Three years later the United Society of Believers of Christ’s Second Appearing (Shakers) migrated to Warren County. A vibrant settlement of Welsh immigrants was established in and around Radnor in Delaware County by 1821. Germans settled in Brown and Tuscarawas counties from 1814 through 1824. The opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 was an opportunity for those in the northeastern United States to migrate to Ohio. English and Irish emigrated to Ohio for railroad construction employment in the 1840s. By 1860, Ohio’s extensive railroad construction provided more miles of track than any other state.
Ohio was intensely involved with the abolitionist movement prior to the Civil War, having considerable activity in the Underground Railroad along Lake Erie and the Ohio River. Following the Civil War, the state gained national political power, producing seven United States presidents. As an agricultural and industrial state, some early industries were barrel-making and meatpacking. The American Federation of Labor formed there in the 1880s. The industrialization and urbanization of Ohio brought new residents from eastern and southern Europe and African Americans from southern states. Mining became increasingly important with products of coal, limestone, and salt.
The twentieth century brought continued industrial strength under the power of capitalists like Benjamin F. Goodrich, Charles Franklin Kettering, and John D. Rockefeller. A multitude of Ohio manufacturers of this century have produced a diverse range of items from steam shovels to matches.