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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How to Create a Coloring Book for Family History

create a coloring bookColoring books are all the rage for adults and kids. Let this project and these free online tools inspire you to create a coloring book to celebrate your heritage.

Last Christmas, my mom Cheryl McClellan created a coloring book for our extended family out of family artwork. She requested copies of line drawings from every willing relative, especially her grandchildren (ages 3-20). Then she added her own childhood artwork, some of mine, and some of her mother’s, so four generations are represented.

create a coloring book

The flowers on the left, originally painted by my grandma, wasn’t as easily colored because of all the dark areas. My mom’s childhood drawing and my son’s, on the right, both made very “colorable” images.

Then she simply photocopied each page to make it into a coloring page. She experimented with the black-and-white settings until she got the best quality reproductions for coloring.

The grandchildren’s artwork came out the best because they created images meant to be colored (with lots of lines and spaces and no shading). The older artwork reproduced with varying degrees of success. But all were fun to include. She chose not to bind the completed book, so the pages would be easier to color, but instead put each person’s collection of coloring pages in large envelopes.

More tools and ideas: Create a coloring book

To create your own family coloring book, gather family photos (or artwork) from your family archive that would be interesting to color. Consider pictures of relatives, homes, heirlooms, or other objects of significance to your current family life or your family history. The best images will have plenty of contrast in them (lights and darks).

Choose your favorite free online photo editing tool, if you have one. Examples include Pixlr.com and Snapstouch.com. I chose Snapstouch because it’s super easy. Here are the instructions on Snapstouch:

1. From the home page, select which final visual effect you prefer: I chose Sketch. (Depending on the photo and the desired effect, you might also choose Drawing or Outline.)

2. Choose your image file from your computer.

3. Select additional options, as shown here. (In Sketch mode, you can choose a darker pencil sketch and faces to be refined).

4. Click UPLOAD. Wait for the file to upload to the site.

5. After the upload is complete, you’ll see the option to click SKETCH. Click and wait for a moment.

6. If the final image is not to your liking, play with the options (you don’t need to re-upload the photo to do this). OR switch to a different visual effect and experiment.

7. Click DOWNLOAD when you’ve got the image you want.

How to See Your Favorite People First on Facebook

Facebook favorite peopleNow you can choose whose Facebook activity shows up at the top of your news feed. We hope the Genealogy Gems Facebook page is on your See First list!

Facebook now has a new feature to allow you to select which friends and pages you want to see at the top of your news feed. Along with your close friends and relatives, we hope you’ll include the Genealogy Gems Facebook page on your See First list.

Here’s how to do it:

See First facebook cropped1. Go to the Facebook friend or fan page you want to add to your See First list.

2. Look for the “Following” (for friends) or “Liked” (for fan pages) button on that profile picture.

3. Click it, then select “See First.”

It’s that easy! You can choose up to 30 people to see first in your feed.

Why bother? In the past, even if you “Like” a fan page like our Genealogy Gems page, it didn’t necessarily show up in your feed. And it could be easy to miss posts from the people you care most about (especially if they don’t post very often). Now you won’t have to chance missing updates from your “besties,” kids or grandkids, or favorite online groups.

media_icon_like_400_wht_9163Add the Genealogy Gems Facebook page to your Facebook See First list,  and you won’t miss any of our gems. Like our recent scoop about the new Social Security Application index: we’ve heard from SO many of you (on and off Facebook) how helpful this new database is. It just takes a second. Will you try it now?

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