Tell Your Ancestor’s Story: Use Social History for Genealogy

Do you wish you knew more about your ancestor’s everyday life experience? Use social history for genealogy: to fill in the gaps between documented events.

social history for genealogy family history

Recently we heard from Barbara Starmans, a social historian, genealogist and longtime listener of three of Lisa’s podcasts. She wrote to share a new blog she started.

“While I’ve maintained my Out of My Tree Genealogy blog for many years, I’ve just launched The Social Historian, a longform story website featuring social history themed articles from across the centuries and around the world.”

Social history is about “the lives of ordinary people,” explains Barbara. “It is a view of history from the bottom up, rather than from the top down…. [It’s about] understanding…how people lived, worked and played in their daily lives. It is often the minutia of someone’s life that tells the story of who they were and what they believed in.”

“By exploring social history, you will be able to research all the circumstances of your ancestors’ lives and to build their life stories from the details you find.” Barbara send us a great list that we adapted and boiled down to a few core topics:

  • Life cycle: Birth and birthing customs, health and lifestyle practices, medicine, diseases and epidemics, mental health, mortality rates, death and burial customs.
  • Life at home: Clothing and fashion, food and cooking, housekeeping, land and property, alcohol and drug use.
  • Life at work: Economy (prices, cost of living and salaries), occupations, working conditions and the labor movement, businesses and employers, social welfare and relief.
  • Relationships: Morality, marriage and divorce, children and childhood, ethnicity and prejudices,
  • Community life: Celebrations and holidays, traditions, education, language and literacy, religion/church, faith, crime and punishment, societal unrest, leisure pursuits.
  • Game changers: War, emigration, inventions, transportation, communication, slavery and emancipation.

Barbara’s social history blog gives lots of great examples of her belief that “beyond just names and dates, those who came before us have a story to tell….By learning about their time and place and how they lived in it, you can add to your understanding of who they were.”

Resources

Genealogists Google Toolbox 2nd edition cover

The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox by Lisa Louise Cooke is packed with strategies for learning about your ancestors’ lives online. There’s an entire chapter on using Google Scholar for genealogy!

Where can you look for social history online? I’d start with these sites:

1. Make sure you’re using all of Google’s fantastic resources, including Google Books and Google Scholar

2. Click to find Social history resources at the Library of Congress

3. American Social History Project at the City University of New York

Have fun! I think learning about the everyday lives of our ancestors is one of the most fascinating parts of family history.

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GEDmatch: A Free Tool for Your DNA Results and Genealogy

 

The genetic genealogy community has a crush. A big one. Everyone is talking about it. “It has such great features,” says one. “It has a chromosome browser!” exclaims another. “It’s FREE!” they all shout. What’s all the hype about? GEDmatch.

GEDmatch

GEDmatch is a mostly free online tool where anyone with autosomal DNA test results from 23andMe, FTDNA, and AncestryDNA can meet and share information. All you need to do is download your data from your testing company and upload it into your newly created GEDmatch account.

GEDmatch Set-up

gedmatch-find-matches

Gedmatch Find Matches

GEDmatch is set up just like your testing company and provides two kinds of reports: ethnicity results and a match list. Remember, ethnicity results, meaning those pie charts that report you are 15% Italian and 32% Irish, are based on two factors: a reference population and fancy math. GEDmatch has gathered data from multiple academic sources to provide you with several different iterations of ethnicity reports. This is like getting a second (and third and fourth, etc) opinion on a science that is still emerging. It is a fun exercise, but will likely not impact your genealogy research very much.

The more important match list does allow you to see genetic cousins who have tested at other companies. Of course, only those who have downloaded their results and entered them into GEDmatch will show up on your list. This means GEDmatch has the potential to expand your pool of genetic cousins, increasing your chances of finding someone to help you track down that missing ancestor.

Many also flock to GEDmatch because they were tested at AncestryDNA and so do not have access to a chromosome browser. A chromosome browser allows you to visualize the physical locations that you share with someone else (see below). Some find this a helpful tool when analyzing their DNA matches, though in my opinion, it is not essential.

dna3

Example

GEDmatch also has some great genealogy features that let you analyze your pedigree against someone else’s, as well as the ability to search all the pedigree charts in their system so you can look specifically for a descendant of a particular relative. However, even with all of these great features, GEDmatch is still yet another website you have to navigate. With that, there will be a learning curve and certainly some frustration.

GEDMatch or Not?

So, is it worth it? If you are fairly comfortable with the website where you were tested, and you are feeling both curious and patient, I say go for it!

It’s too much to tell you right this minute how to download your data from your testing site and upload it to GEDmatch, but you’re in luck! I’ve put step-by-step instructions for getting started in a free tutorial on my website at www.yourDNAguide.com/transferring.

Join Me on a Genealogy Cruise of the British Isles

It’s always a joy for me to get to get out and about and meet readers and listeners in person. In July 2014 there’s a wonderful opportunity for us to get together in person, talk genealogy and experience the joy of travel: the Unlock the Past Cruises for their 2014 British Isles Cruise!

Genealogy Cruise

I’ll be joining eight other incredible genealogists to bring cruisers an exciting assortment of family history classes aboard the beautiful Marco Polo ship (right).  Check out  the Presenters page

 

You’ll have around 40 topics to choose from, held mostly in the evening so there will be loads of time to explore the breathtaking landscape.

Itinerary: 

  • day 1 – depart Tilbury, London – 6pm (boarding from 12.30pm)
  • day 2 – at sea
  • day 3 – Invergordon, Scotland – 7.30am-10pm
  • day 4 – Kirkwall, Orkney Islands – 7am-6pm
  • day 5 – Stornoway, Outer Hebrides – 7.30am-10pm (transfer to shore by tender)
  • day 6 – Tobermory, Isle of Mull – 7.30am-4pm (transfer to shore by tender)
  • day 7 – Dublin, Ireland – 8am-5.45pm
  • day 8 – St Mary’s, Isles of Scilly – 9am-6pm (transfer to shore by tender)
  • day 9 – St Peter Port, Guernsey – 7.30am-6pm (transfer to shore by tender)
  • day 10 – Honfleur, France –  9am-5pm
  • day 11 – arrive Tilbury, London – 9am

My understanding is that this cruise is filling up very quickly so if you’re interested be sure and click here for more details.

NEW! Updated Tips for Using Your iPad for Genealogy

ipad videoAre you using your iPad for genealogy? Or a tablet computer? You should! There are SO many family history-friendly apps out there! And the list of what you can do with your iPad or tablet just keeps getting longer.

That’s why I’ve updated my Premium Video, “Genealogy on the Go with iPad.” The iPad is built for hitting the road and is ideally suited for family history due to its sleek lightweight size, gorgeous graphics and myriad of apps and tools.

In this class I teach you “the tablet mindset,” the best apps for the tasks that genealogists want to accomplish, and my updated Top 10 list of iPad Tips and Tricks. By the end of class you will be able to turn your iPad into a family history powerhouse!

Genealogy Gems Premium members can watch my newly-updated video class (53 minutes) and download the updated handout. Click here to learn more about Premium membership.

If you’d rather read a book on this topic, check out one of my best-selling books, Turn Your iPad into a Genealogy Powerhouse.

If you like this post, you’ll also love posts like these:

Search for more posts on apps, iPad, mobile genealogy and related topics on my home page. Just search by topic in the lower left corner!

Free Video: How to Read a Faded Tombstone Without Damaging the Stone

Tombstone editRecently I heard from listener Tom, who is trying to document Civil War veterans from Washington state. “I am taking pictures of their headstones,” he says. “I currently use just a spray bottle and soft brush to wash away the 100 years plus of dirt so I can better see and photograph the inscriptions. Do you have a better way to clean and photograph or maybe rub the headstones?”

I don’t recommend tombstone rubbings because each time a genealogist does that it wears the headstone down just a little bit more, causing deterioration.

However, I have a better solution for how to read a faded tombstone. I created a free video based on an article I wrote for Family buy serc medication Tree Magazine. It’s called Grave Transformations and you can watch it for free on Family Tree Magazine’s YouTube channel or just watch below. The idea is that instead of touching the headstone at all, you can simply manipulate your photographic images of it instead! Watch the video and you’ll see those faded letters come back into view. It’s pretty cool!

Family History and Genealogy on YouTubeDid you know the Genealogy Gems You Tube Channel has over 70 free videos on a wide variety of genealogical topics? Click to go to our channel’s home page. Be sure to click the SUBSCRIBE button on the channel so that you won’t miss our new videos when they are published!

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