So much of what your ancestors did during their lives — their choice of occupation, who they married, and how they lived — has to do with the place they called home. A young man in a small, rural farming community, for example, was probably a bit limited when it came to his choice of brides. A large family living in the “big” city was more likely to rent than own their home. Researching the local history of the town, village, or city where your ancestors lived is a big step toward understanding what their life was like — the people, places, and events that impacted the course of their own personal history. This is what will help you place the raw facts of your genealogy — names, dates, and places — into historical context, and really bring your family tree to life.
The more you delve into your family's history, the more you're going to want to know about the history of your country and the events in which your ancestors participated. Digital History (
Much of your research into local history can and should be done in conjunction with the rest of your genealogy research. As you search an old newspaper for an obituary notice, for example, take time to look at the news headlines, the gossip columns, and even the advertisements to get a glimpse of what people were interested in during that time. When you're visiting the website of the local historical society or county government for information on available records, take a few extra minutes to click through on the History or About Us links, if available, to learn more about the area. As you enter information from census enumerations or marriage records in your genealogy software, be sure to add not just names and dates, but also facts for things such as residence (with the street name when given) and occupation. It can be very interesting to track these over time.
One of the tools many genealogists use to visualize their ancestors' place in history is the timeline. Many genealogy software programs can help you create a basic timeline, or you can use special timeline software (search the web for timeline software or timeline creator). On this timeline you'll add important dates from your ancestors' lives, along with historic events such as wars, natural disasters, epidemics, and so on. Look for local events of importance, as well as national and world events to add to your timeline. Knowing that your ancestors lived in the mid-1800s and actually “seeing” the events they lived through are two different things.