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Including the "History" in Family History

What Were Your Ancestors Really Like?

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Sure it's great to find out that great, great-Grandpa was born in South Carolina in 1869. And that you have another Grandmother who grew up in France, and a great, great great-grandfather named, of all things, Kinchen. But what makes family trees fascinating are the people, not the facts. Learning about the military dances where a young girl from France met and fell in love with a handsome U.S. soldier during WWII. Or the great-grandmother who had the courage to travel from Poland to America alone with 4 children, to join her husband who had come ahead to make a new home for his family. Little details like these are what make family history exciting, and can breathe new life into your genealogy research.

There are numerous resources available which can help you learn more about the time periods, ethnic customs, and religious practices that will help you place your family's lives in a meaningful historical context.

Start with Living Relatives
While you still can, be sure to utilize the most valuable resource you have - your living family members. They may not often talk about what life was like growing up because they think people will find it boring, but you may be surprised how vivid their memories are once you get them started.
50 Questions for Family Interviews

Next Stop, the Library
Libraries are great sources for background information on the locations and eras in which your ancestors lived, including history books, maps, cookbooks (for ethnic or period recipes), and fashion (for clothing and styles from different time periods).
Genealogy in the Library

History in the News
Period newspapers provide not only the expected birth announcements and obituaries, but also a window into the lives of your ancestors through advertisements of popular products, ‘gossip’ columns, long-forgotten news items pertinent to the day, and even editorial comments reflecting community sentiments.
Finding Family History in Newspapers

Mapping Out the Family Tree
Being familiar with the area in which an ancestor lived is essential to family history research. This is where maps come in. Maps can not only help you pinpoint the name, location, and history of the city or town in which your ancestors lived, but also help you find and picture where your relatives were born, resided, attended school, shopped, voted, traveled over land or water, courted, married, raised families, and were laid to rest.
Using Maps in Your Genealogical Research

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