Social History and our Ancestors

Social history is defined as the study of our everyday lives and was an important part of the lives of our ancestors. We may think of our ancestors as unique individuals but, they were usually part of groups that reacted to the economic and political pressures that surrounded them. Researching the historical context in which our ancestors lived will add a historical background that may help answer questions and explain behaviors. Common elements in the daily lives of that can be researched include their residence, occupation, religion, local politics, local economy, family migration, military experiences and social status. Including this information and events could add important insights into our ancestors’ lives and help portray them as real people and not just names on a chart.

When adding social history as a background for your ancestors be sure to mention your sources and draw your conclusions after presenting evidence that leads to those conclusions. Be careful not to fictionalize their lives by forcing their lives into events that they did not take part. Avoid inserting famous historical events that are not relevant to your family history.

 I have used many sources for the social history that I have added to my histories. I used general history books and many other books that I found at my local library.  I also used the internet to find various articles and books about various topics such as the journey that immigrants endured. Other sources that may give historical references that can be used in our histories may be found in letters and diaries, favorite recipes and notes in cookbooks, biographies, histories of urban ethnic neighborhoods and county histories.

Social history has brought more life to my ancestors. However, as a general rule, I try to add as much social history as I can but these events must affect the lives of my ancestors. As an example, a brief history of the railroad shops in Bloomington, Illinois will help explain why my family was in Bloomington seeking jobs. However, explaining the workings of all of the various departments in the shops is overkill.

As I stated earlier, our genealogy research should be more than collecting documents. Your genealogy research can generate a family history that will be a wonderful treasure for many future generations of your family.


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