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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Which are the Best Genealogy Websites for YOU??

Bill Johnson in Manassas, Virginia, USA, wrote to me with this question–and I know he’s not the only one asking it!

“It’s difficult to know what genealogical resources to spend your money on. I have been a subscriber to Ancestry.com (world package) for years. But, there is FindMyPast, MyHeritage, etc. Your books identify dozens of other resources that all sound good — and cost money. Then there are some of the free resources like the National Archives and the LDS resources [FamilySearch].  Where should you spend your time and money?  While money is always a factor, I find that my time is a more precious resource.  If I have Ancestry.com, would I gain anything by subscribing to FindMyPast? MyHeritage? FamilySearch? The National Archives or the BLM sites?  I am concerned about wasting money on redundancy.  Why visit a site that only offers a select subset of the data that I access through Ancestry?

Which paid sites do you regularly use?  Which free sites do you use?  Your books have a plethora of suggestions but the pool of resources is increasing by the day.  It is really getting rather confusing.”

What a great question!!! Here’s my answer:

“I agree, it’s gotten more complicated selecting the best genealogy websites for your own needs. I will take a look at covering this more in depth in a future podcast episode. I do have a few ideas for you right now.

It’s really about accessing the right website (or tool) for the task.

  • For general depth of records I turn first to Ancestry.com (you only need the world edition if you need records outside of the U.S.), and then FamilySearch.org. With Ancestry.com, I make sure I use the card catalog and search by location tool (scroll down to the map) so I’m not missing all the record sets that don’t automatically jump to the top of the general search results. FamilySearch is free, so I check its online resources EVERY TIME I have a question. I check both browsable and indexed content (from the main screen, click Search, then Records, then scroll down and click Browse all Published Collections (or click to that screen here). You’ll be able to choose a location and see all content they have and whether it’s been indexed or you just have to browse through it (like reading microfilm, only online).
  • For me personally, I was slow to warm up to MyHeritage because I just wasn’t sure how it would best help me. Once I embraced it and posted my tree, its strength in my research became clear: for the first time ever I connected with a distant cousin in the “old country” (Germany)! The international user base of MyHeritage stands above other sites. And the fact that you can create your own family site on MyHeritage makes it a great ongoing resource for staying connected. (Disclosure: MyHeritage is a sponsor of the Genealogy Gems podcast. However, that is because of the value I came to experience in my own research as I just mentioned.)
  • When I am focused on my husband’s British roots I head to FindMyPast and pay as I go as needed.

download backblazeOur mission here at Genealogy Gems is to reveal innovative ways of using the myriad of tech tools so you’ll know you can turn to them only when you need them. Think of it as a toolbelt. The right tool for the right job! But I also only bring tech tools and websites to the podcast and my website that I believe are worthwhile. Believe it or not, I weed a lot of them out!

I hope that helps, and I wish you great genealogical success!”  Lisa

New Online! English Genealogy Records and More

English genealogy records abound in this week’s roundup of new family history records online. Find England BMD, parish records, newspapers, and more. Also: an important addition to the British Newspaper Archive’s Irish newspaper collection,  over 1,000 years of Chinese documents and records, German vital records, parish records for Italy and Sweden, and new US collections for VA, OH and NY.
headed to England for genealogy records

English Genealogy Records Now Online

Ancestry.com subscribers can now search these English genealogy record collections:

          • Bedfordshire Petty Sessions 1854-1915 This collection includes details of over 100,000 individuals involved in petty session hearings in Befordshire. Details for each individual may include name, role in the case, date of the hearing, location of the court, and even the fines or punishments given to the defendant(s).
          • Bedfordshire Valuation Records 1838-1929 These records deal solely with the value of properties in Bedfordshire county. The volumes name the proprietor or tenant, describe or name the property and give an annual rental value. It will also sometimes give an acreage for the property.
          • Bedfordshire Land Tax Records 1797-1832 Details found within this collection include may include year of residence, name of occupier, name of owner, and parish of residence.
          • Shropshire Extracted Church of England Parish Records, 1538-1812. This collection of indexes is taken from various published versions of parish and probate records from Shropshire, England dating from the early 1500s (with some non-parish records earlier) to the late 1800s. “The records include baptisms/christenings, burials, marriages, tombstone inscriptions, obituaries, tax lists, wills, and other miscellaneous types of records,” states the collection description. “Also included are some records from non-conformist churches.”

At FamilySearch.org, you can now search a free collection of Staffordshire Church Records. In partnership with Findmypast’s expansion of Staffordshire records, this collection provides church records from 1538-1944. Nearly 5 million indexed records and over 278,000 images are included.

Over at Findmypast, subscribers can now search extensive new collections for Buckinghamshire. (The original records are held at the Buckinghamshire Archives.) New databases include:
          • Buckinghamshire Baptism Index 870,000 transcripts created from original records held at the Buckinghamshire Archives. You will also discover your ancestor’s birthplace, the date of the baptism, their father’s occupation and residence.
          • Buckinghamshire Banns Index Explore 101,000 records created from original parish registers and bishop’s transcripts. “Each transcript will reveal the name of your ancestor’s intended spouse, the couple’s residence, the dates the announcements were read and their intended date of marriage.”
          • Buckinghamshire Marriage Index Over 485,000 transcripts “will reveal the couple’s birth years, marital status, occupation, date of marriage, place of marriage, residence, occupation, father’s names, father’s occupations and the names of any witnesses.”
          • Buckinghamshire Burial Index More than 662,000 transcripts are included, created from original parish registers and bishop’s transcripts. “Each record will reveal your ancestor’s birth year, age at death, burial date, and residence. An archive reference is also included, allowing you to locate a copy of the original document.”

British and Irish Newspapers Now Online

Over 2.3 million new articles and 7 brand new titles have been added to the British Newspaper Archive’s collection of historic newspapers this month. New titles now available to search include:

  • Tenby Observer
  • Brechin Herald
  • Milngavie and Bearsden Herald
  • Alcester Chronicle
  • Abergavenny Chronicle
  • Ripley and Heanor News and Ilkeston Division Free Press
  • Eastern Daily Press and the Colchester Gazette

Click here to explore these and other historic British Newspapers.

More than 5,000 pages from the Leitrim Advertiser have been added to Irish newspapers at the British Newspaper Archive. From the description: “The paper was originally published in Mohill, Leitrim and known in later years and The Leitrim and Longford Advertiser.” The earliest issue dates back to 1886, through 1916. With this addition, the British Newspaper Archive now has a newspaper for every county in Ireland!

German Births and Deaths: Bischofswerda

Ancestry.com has added new collections for Bischofswerda births (1876-1902) and deaths (1876-1951). Bischofswerda is located about 22 miles east of Dresden at the edge of Upper Lusatia in the German state of Saxony. To local residents, it is also known as “Schiebock” and known for its large historic market square and town hall.

Italian civil registration: Padova

FamilySearch has published 42,000 newly indexed records and images in its free collection, Civil Registration Records: Padova 1621 – 1914. From the collection description: “Civil registration of births, marriages, and deaths within the custody of the State Archive of Padova. Includes supplemental documents, residency records, ten-year indexes, and marriage banns. Availability of records is largely dependent on time period and locality.”

Swedish Household Examination Books

Also at FamilySearch are 1 million indexed records and images for Swedish Household Examination Books 1880-1920. According to the collection, “Each year until 1894 the Parish Priest would visit each home in the parish and test each individual’s knowledge of the catechisms. In addition, they would collect birth, death, and marriage dates as well as where families had moved to or from and when, etc. The priest would then come back each year and update or edit the information from the previous year and note any changes in the population of the home.” (These are also online at MyHeritage.com.) Click here to read a great article for getting started on your Swedish genealogy.

Chinese Records at the Library of Congress

An exciting announcement from the Library of Congress this week! “The contents of the Asian Division’s Pre-1958 Chinese Collection, totaling more than 42,000 items, are now fully searchable through the Library’s online catalog in both Chinese characters and Romanized script. This rich and diverse collection has served researchers and general audiences for nearly 90 years; until now, however, bibliographic records for these materials were only available through a card catalog.”

United States

New York. The Vassar College Digital Newspaper Archive is now available online. Provided by the Vassar College Libraries, this archive provides access to newspapers published by Vassar College students. Earliest issues date back to 1872, and cover a wide range of topics and events on and off campus. This collection currently contains over 85,000 pages.

Ohio. New at Ancestry this week are Ohio Soldier Grave Registrations, 1804-1958. This database contains grave registration cards for soldiers from Ohio who served in the armed forces, mainly from the time of the War of 1812 up through the 1950s. Records may contain an individual’s name, date and place of birth, date and cause of death, location of burial, next of kin, military service information, and more.

Also in Ohio, Kent State University has completed the digital Daily Kent Stater Archive. It contains 90 years of Kent State student publications, dated from Feb 1926 to Dec 2016. According to the press release, “it covers several historic events as well as some great memories for the Kent State alumnae.” Check out the introductory video!
Virginia. Two million pages of the Newport News Daily Press are now searchable on Newspapers.com, with issues dating back to 1898.

 

Did you know? You can search the Genealogy Gems website for articles about your favorite genealogy categories–including records and research tips for several countries and ethnicities. Go to our home page and click on the dropdown menu under What do you want to learn about? Scroll down to see the various categories or start typing a few letters to jump down to that part of the alphabetical list.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links. Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

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