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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Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast Episode 129

Get inspired in Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode 129! You’ll hear about church records and YouTube for genealogy, locating hard-to-find records and–even better–locating ancestors’ parents.

How many ways can you think of to find family history? Lisa Louise Cooke can think of a lot–and she packs as many of them as possible into the newly-published Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode #129.

In this members-only podcast, Lisa starts off with a rundown of some great new genealogy records online. I particularly enjoyed the back story she shares on the 1939 Register recently released by Findmypast for England and Wales.

Then Lisa tackles a tough two-part question that a listener sent in. We follow along with this listener’s progress in trying to track down an elusive record type. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t pan out. (Sound familiar?) So then it’s back to the drawing board with some follow-up Genealogy Gems advice and great feedback from yet another listener! I love how this show segment shows the inside process of multi-step research problems.

youtube genealogyA segment on YouTube for family history follows. Lisa is so great at figuring out how to use everyday buy adhd medication online technologies and online resources for family history, and YouTube is no exception. I admit I was a bit skeptical the first time I read about searching YouTube for ancestors in Lisa’s book, The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, but I have since found some amazing things on YouTube. Don’t miss these tips!

Two guests join the show today. First is an exclusive Gems interview sabrina Riley Genealogy Gems Podcast Church Recordswith Sabrina Riley, a Library Director at Union College. Sabrina oversees an archive of Seventh-Day Adventist church records and gives us great tips on using these (and other denominational records) for genealogy.

Then Diahan Southard chimes in with an insightful DNA commentary on when our DNA circles don’t necessarily result in family connections.

Genealogy Gems Premium Membership and PodcastWhat a great lineup! If you’re a Genealogy Gems Premium website member, sign in and then click here and start listening. If you’re not, click here to learn more about the benefits of Genealogy Gems Premium membership. Listening to this exclusive podcast episode is just ONE of MANY benefits you’ll receive for an entire year!

Adoption and Genealogy: A History of Adoption in the U.S.

Mrs. Ella Watson, a government charwoman, with three grandchildren and her adopted daughter [reflected in the mirror]. Image from The Gordon Parks Archives in the Library of Congress.

Most of us probably have adoptees somewhere on our family trees. Do you know how to research them? It’s not the same as the adoption research people do nowadays to find their birth parents.

Formal, legal adoption wasn’t common in the U.S. until the late 1800s. (State adoption laws didn’t even exist until after Massachusetts passed the first one in 1851.) Before that,  if mom and dad couldn’t take care of a child, a relative, neighbor or friend took that child in, or the child was sent to a county orphanage or poor home. In even earlier days, orphaned or poverty-stricken children were also sold by their towns into indentures.

The Adoption History Project at the University of Oregon has a great timeline of adoption history in the U.S. Check it out to see what was going on when your family member was adopted.

To learn more about adoption and genealogy research, check out these links:

FamilySearch Wiki U.S. Adoption Research

All About Adoption Research by Maureen Taylor

RootsWeb’s Guide to Tracing Family Trees: Adoption

 

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