The high rate of population turnover in nineteenth-century North American cities no longer requires emphasis. However, students of historical migration have progressed very little beyond merely documenting its existence. As a result, the relationship of social, economic, and demographic factors to migration remains imperfectly understood, and the extent to which rates of population movement varied with economic growth, population size, or other factors still is a matter of conjecture.
In another essay, we began the systematic exploration of population movement through an analysis of patterns in Buffalo and rural Erie County, New York, in 1855. The 1855 New York state census recorded how long each individual had lived in the place in which he or she was enumerated. Using this information, and correcting for mortality, we developed estimates of population persistence and of the determinants of length of residence, which are two conceptually distinct phenomena. We compared both to patterns in Hamilton, Ontario, during the same period and, less systematically, to what historians reported for other places. We concluded that the rate of population persistence in Buffalo was higher than in a number of other cities, and we attributed the difference to the dynamism of the city’s economic life, compared especially to Hamilton in the same years. Nonetheless, despite differences in rates of persistence, the social and demographic correlates of length of residence were strikingly similar in each city and in the countryside as well.