Flitting, also known as theTraditional Moving Day, was April 1st in Pennsylvania

Reading Eagle Womelsdorf 31 March 1884 p. 3

Reading Eagle, Mon., 31 March 1884 p. 3, Womelsdorf.

Renters can be more elusive to research than homeowners purely because of a lack of centralized lease repository comparable to the Register of Deeds or Recorder’s Office for land ownership deeds. In general, renters moved more frequently, sometimes once a year (or more) when house or farm tenancies expired. Tradition and custom in Pennsylvania, from Reading to Pittsburgh, was yearly leases which expired at noon on the first of April. In 1905 this tradition still existed in Pittsburgh and a discussion of a legislative solution to resolve some of the urban problems of moving day for masses of renters appeared in an article, "Is a Regular Moving Day Necessary?" on page 32 of the Pittsburgh Press dated 24 December 1905. Another article appeared in 30 March 1908. Diane E. Wenger mentions April 1st as the beginning of the farm year, flitting and moving, in her book about the Samuel Rex's country store in Schaefferstown, Lebanon Co., Pennsylvania, A Country Storekeeper in Pennsylvania: Creating Economic Networks in Early America, 1790-1807. According to the South Jersey Pine Barrens web site, in South Jersey Moving Day was connected to the vernal equinox or March 25th, but it was April 23rd in Latvia. The Carlisle Letters Online reference flitting day as September 23rd. The Spokane Daily Chronicle dated 9 March 1917 mentions moving as flitting, but doesn't have the mass movement connotation.

Another article about flittings was in the Reading Eagle dated 30 March 1884, entitled "Many Movings. Some of the First of April Flittings in Reading." The entire fourth column on the first page is gigantic list of mobile Reading residents. What a boon for genealogists! Reading residents on the front page of the Reading Eagle involved in moving 30 March 1884: J. F. Daniell, Alderman Brownwell, S. C. Ermentrout, John B. Renninger, Mrs. Simon Kline, Wm. R. Hinnershitz, Charles A. Ringel, ex Sheriff Gerhart, H. W. Moyers, Edward Getz, J. B Fricker, G. Benton Beaver, Charles Ereye, Michael A. Shade, John Barbey, Horace Roland, Albert Mertz, James W. Robinson, Mrs. Kate Shalter, James F. Smith, Eliza E. Kerper, Thomas W. Laing, Wm. S. Miller, O. B. Wetherhold, Solomon Weil, John M. Keim, Mrs. Abrah Harris, Earnst Sproesser, Reuben Eckenroth, Frederick Moyer, B. H. Zerr, Samuel McDonough, Tyson Himmelberger, Edward S. Potts, Ephraim Phillips, Leopold Levi, William Hassler, Andrew J. Hain, Alfred Fritz, John K. Leininger, Eli L. Danks, Pierson E. Reed, Gicondo Valtz Matte, Samuel Wertz, Rev. Foxe, Herman Hammel, Anna M. Reber, David C. Showers, Peter A. Althouse, James Cain, David Block, Natus Maurer, Dr. R. F. Krebs, Geo. Kramer, Nathan Unger, Luther Reedy, Eli Kauffman, Frank Tyack, Amos McCarty, Benj. Dumm, F. F. Riegner, Nicholas Albright, Gustavus Nagle, Geo. Miller, George Kemp, Jeremiah Bowman, Reuben Drexel, Wm. L. Boynton, Samuel Kepner, Wm. R. Bickel, Alfred Fritz, A. R. Koenig, John S. Knight, John A. Fehr, H. B. Smith, Mr. Schoch, Fred. S. Jones, Mr. Boylan, Butcher Eck, Mr. Otto, George Shofer, S. D. Angstadt, W. Koch, Mr. Graeff, H. P. Wanner, Mr. Lewis, Dr. J. L. Ritter, J. J. Whalen, Mr. Katzenmoyer, Mrs. Haas, Mrs. King, H. S Landis, C. D. Maurer, A. .J. Noecker, John Whalen, Jonathan B. Miesse, Reuben Matz, Emory Hauser, Dr. J. N. Becker, Oliver Nye, John W. Kelly, Robert J. McLean, Rev. J. W. Norris, Howard Sheets, William Green, Christopher Becker, Elias Eyrich, Philip Glaser, Charles Detweiler, John Moyer, Daniel Donahower, William Sands, John Laucks, Christian Geiser, and Eli Althouse.

Urban research can differ from rural research. The wonderful existence of yearly city directories and the very, very, seldom publication of county rural directories underlines that. Farm leases needed to cover time necessary to till, plant and harvest the land. So springtime, April 1, was a good beginning date. Year long leases protected land owners from mid winter vacancies. Farm owners needed tenants all year round for the upkeep of the buildings and property. In Pennsylvania, state law protected tenants' rights to the crops they planted even after they moved on. The Cumberland County Historical Marker web site refers to Lucy Simler’s article "Tenancy in Colonial Pennsylvania, The Case of Chester Co." published in William and Mary Quarterly 43:4 (1986) 542-569. Rural leases may have expired March 31st, but tenant farmers may have chosen to move earlier as long as they were in compliance with their current lease. Renters leave few traces so a newspaper article, utility bill, school records, church letter of transter, journal entry or letter may be the only empirical evidence of a move.

The United States Federal Population Census effective dates:

    • 1790 August 2nd
    • 1800 August 4th
    • 1810 August 6th
    • 1820 August 7th
    • 1830 June 1st
    • 1840 June 1st
    • 1850 June 1st
    • 1860 June 1st
    • 1870 June 1st
    • 1880 June 1st
    • 1890 June 1st
    • 1900 June 1st
    • 1910 April 15th
    • 1920 January 1st
    • 1930 through 2010 April 1st

Any event taking place the first of April, especially moving, may exacerbate missing census data. However, the mass migration pattern of moving day dissipated before the effective enumeration date of the census changed from August (1790-1820) to June (1830-1900) to April (1910) to January (1920) and then back to April (1930-2010). There may have been a possible effect on the 1910 Pennsylvania census when the enumeration date was April 15th. 

Flitting day or moving day was a custom with British Isle undertones that traveled to America, New Zealand and probably Australia. A New Zealand Flitting Day is described in the Clutha Leader dated 26 August 1875, page 7. According to page 728 of Curiosities of Popular Customs and of Rites, Ceremonies, Observances, and Miscellaneous Antiquitiesby William Shepard Walsh, Moving Day in New York and Boston was May Day and Scotland’s Flitting Day was May 22, while other sources cite May 25th and May 28th. The Encyclopedia of Chicago lists May 1st as moving day with a note since in 1865 President Lincoln’s funeral cortege went through Chicago on May 1st, it was postponed until May 3rd. In New York City, May 1st is referenced in the New York Times  21 April 1895 article, "The Weary May Flitting." According to the TheFreeDictionary.com by Farlex, Boston also considered May 1st to be moving day, whilst Scotland used May 25th or May 28th. In Pennsylvania, the day was April 1st. In Quebec and Montreal, it was May 1st and moved by statute to July 1, ostensibly to allow students to stay in the same place during the school year. The Montreal Gazette dated 1 May 1912, describes a two week period for flitting. I have not found evidence of this kind of moving day in the South or West.

Several references in the English Dialect Dictionary: D-G edited by Joseph Wright, refer to moving, transporting or to move things from one house to another. 

image.EnglishDialectDictionary.flit.web

In London, April 1st is refered to as the busiest quarter day of the year, but not necessarily Flitting Day. Sources that don't discuss Flitting, Moving or Rent Day:

  • Black’s Law Dictionary 
  • Albion’s Seed by David Hackett Fischer
  • The Book of Ancient Lights: a Handbook of Words and Terms for Genealogists and History Buffs by Anita Peterson.

Ida Sherwood Bettis is my paternal grand mother. Aunt Clara is my great aunt. I can remember every nooks and crany of that house and yard...

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