Lessons Learned #2 – Expanding the Narrative

Genealogists have long faced dilemma, “How do I get my family interested in what I’m learning about us, because this is important?”

I have a confession. Names, dates and places don’t do it for me. They’re just as boring to me as they are to any man on the street. Without context, these facts offer us very little.

As genealogists, finding the narrative of our family’s life is critical. Don’t get me wrong! We’re not dramatizing like filmmakers. We can’t recreate dialogue. But, we can expand the story of our ancestors’ lives. Maybe examples will help.

  1. You find out that your ancestor served in the military during the U.S. Civil War through a “Compiled Military Service Record.” That record tells you what branch of the military, what regiment and what company. It would be a great idea to expand your research to include a google search for that company in that time frame. Where were they? What battles did they fight it? What was the outcome? Who was their commander? What kind of leader was he like? Then, go visit that location, if possible. Take a tour and take photos.
  2. Your ancestor immigrated and you know where they lived in the old country. Finding records in other countries can be very tricky, particularly if you don’t speak the language. Why not google search the city or town? What was happening there when the ancestor immigrated? Every genealogists wants to know why their ancestor immigrated, so make a list of all possibilities.
  3. Consider what an average day looked like for your relative? What did it take to put food on the table, shelter over their heads and clothes on their backs? What was their day like, how many hours did they work, and did they ever have a break? What language or cultural barriers might have made relationships with their communities challenging? What hardships did they face? Usually these kinds of questions will lead you to community, county, or ethnic group histories. Check the local libraries where your ancestors lived for resources.
  4. Your ancestor did something notable – good or bad. Check newspapers -my favorite! They are often very biased and incorrect, but that is very revealing as well. Find the court records. Hunt down the patent application. Find the records of their service in civil leadership of their town. Buy a copy of the book they wrote and read it. Contact the college or university to obtain a copy of their transcripts.
  5. Find a map from your ancestors’ time period and plot where they lived. They head to google earth or google maps and get a current photo.
  6. Find the appropriate local newspapers stories from the town where your family lived. What was happening outside of their household that might have been of concern to them? Was the railroad coming through? What were the political debates? Who were the major employers in the area?

Curiosity is a valuable skill in genealogy. More so, the ability to figure out how to get the answers to your questions. Develop these skills. Then learn how to assemble it all to share.

You may also like