Creating a Personal History of Ancestors

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Campbell, Adam R, Family Photo.jpg
Ancestors Personal History
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If you have ever read a historical novel or narrative, you know how interesting they make history to be. So why don't you try to write one about your own ancestors.

But you asked, how do you write a personal history of an ancestor who may have lived hundreds of years ago and left no diary?  It is not easy, but you can make some assumptions like authors of such works do.

For example, we can assume that if person left his home land to come to American, he did so for a reason. We might be able to figure out that reason by studying a little of the history of the country they immigrated from.

We may find out that they came to American because they were being persecuted for their religion or political convictions like the puritans. Or they came because they were just plain hungry and tired of not having enough to eat like the Irish in the 1850's.

Typical day in the life on an ancestor[edit | edit source]

In addition, we might be able to describe a typical day of a father by knowing his occupation and learning how he earned a living. We can describe the typical day of a housewife and mother by knowing the kind of house they lived in, how they cook meals, clean clothes, etc.

Research is not hard[edit | edit source]

  • Get a general idea of the history of the country where the subject lived or came from to see what influence it had on them and why they may have left it.
  • Try to locate any local histories from the area of the country where your subject lived which probably had a larger impact on them than the national scene.
  • Can you find any direct evidence that they were effected by such events as national wars or local conflicts, land ownership disputes, poor working conditions, no opportunities to improve ones economic condition, any ethnic persecutions, religious harassment, etc.
  • Were they native to the country they came from? Many of the immigrants from Wales, for example, had ancestors that were originally from Ireland and Scotland so you’ll want to learn why they went to Wales.
  • What was the town or village like that the subject lived in? Was it a manufacturing or farming area? Was a big town or small village? What were most of the houses built of?
  • What were the living conditions in that town or village?
  • What would the subject’s home have been like?
  • What kinds of furniture would the subject have in their home?
  • How did they make a living?
  • Were they effected by natural disasters?
  • What were their chances for an education? Could they read or write?
  • What was the dominate religion and did your subject belong to it? How did your subject worship? Did they say grace before meals? Read the Bible together? Had their children christened?
  • How did they pick names for children?
  • Learn what occupation your subject was engaged in and learn how he preformed his labors.
  • Find out what would be typical day for a housewife of the period.
  • What would be typical meal served to the family? Did they have plenty to eat?
  • If the subject immigrated, what were traveling conditions like?. Be detailed. How did they travel, how long was the trip, what did they eat, were they sick, who did they travel with, how were they organized, etc. Did they move because of a relative who had immigrated earlier? Did they go live with that relative for a while?
  • What was the make up of the family at the time of immigration?
  • What style of clothes did the subject wear?
  • Where did they sleep? How many to a room?
  • What was medical treatment like in those days?
  • What sorts of illness effected people?
  • Was the subject involved in any wars and if so what weapons would he have used?
  • What was their social standing in the community?
  • What education did the subject have if any? Could they read and write?
  • How were people married?
  • When did people quit working and retire or did they?
  • What did people do for entertainment?

This is not an extensive list[edit | edit source]

I suggest that you read a historical narrative or two and see what was included by the author. Make a list of items covered by the author as he or she covered in their text. Then you'll see what professional look for when creating historical narratives.

1800 Personal History Questions[edit | edit source]

Here is a list of 1800 questions you can use as memory ticklers. See Creating A Personal History for other items you might want to research in writing these histories.

Research[edit | edit source]

Now this may seem like a lot of work, but it really isn’t. Most of this information can be had from a book or two or from the Wiki on line in just a couple of hours. Just be sure and take notes on those items that may have had a direct influence on the family.

History of countries.[edit | edit source]

You should have no difficulty in finding books on every country and time period that ever existed on this earth. There are many books on the family life for the all major historical periods.

Biographies of historical people[edit | edit source]

In addition, check out the biographies of people who were from the same time and countryas your ancestor. They will have much information of the life and culture of the period. I think you’ll find that which was once dull history will come alive when your reading is giving you insights to your own ancestors.

Immigrant Ancestors[edit | edit source]

For your immigrant ancestors, you can also repeat these same questions for the area they settled in. You can use these questions until you get to a generation that has written records that you can access. However, you still need to know the history of the area.

And as I've said, most of this information can be had in a couple of books in a few hours of study. Your problem will be that it is hard to quit reading. You'll probably find that you just can’t get enough of those things which you know had a directly effect on your ancestors.

Of my eight second great grand fathers, seven of them enlisted in the Civil War. The one that did not was an old man in 1861. However knowing this made me pay much more attention to the PBS series “The Civil War” produced by Ken Burns. I could just see my ancestors in the pictures that were shown on the TV screen.

The descriptions of the battles and living conditions gave me a good idea of what they went through. I have a much more profound respect for them and their devotion to duty.

Anyway I think you can see how interesting history will now become when there is a personal link to what you are studying. These people become more alive to you and you’ll want to learn more about them. You know, we really are the sum of those who came before us.