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July 31, 2009

Setting Your Ancestor in History

One of the things I like to do as a genealogist and avid but amateur historian, is to find out about my ancestors in history. By that I mean once I find an ancestor, I make note of his dates of birth and death, and his geographic locations during his life time. Then I look for events that happened during my ancestor's life.

What I am trying to do is place my ancestor in history, see what events he lived through, perhaps even took part in, but certainly was aware of. I look for world events, country events and local events. That way I can build a story around my ancestor and get a much better appreciation of him as a real person who lived and laughed and cried, who experienced stress as well as happiness. It doesn't have to be huge events like the Halifax Explosion, or the Civil War, or San Francisco earthquake (although you might find your ancestor lived during or was involved in something momentous)

You may find out about a fire in the town where he lived, a series of droughts or hard times in his farming community - perhaps he lived through a recession. But try to think of your ancestor experiencing the same emotions as you do! Going through the same trials and times as you.

How do you find out about all these events? Newspapers are a great source for interesting items in the town or community or country where your ancestors lived. You can either search using keywords (fire, earthquake, drought, and so on) or by choosing a specific day and reading the newspaper for that day to see what happened.

Here are some newspaper archives online that I use in my searches.

* I am a big fan of this website. I like the display of the newspapers and how quickly they load for me.

* Family History Newspapers 1690-1980 on GenealogyBank

* Footnote icon has newspapers and so does

My husband has ancestors who all lived in one small town for generations. So his method of setting them into history was to start reading that small town newspaper, one day at a time. He likes to read it as if he were living there and the paper was coming to his door, that is - he reads each day's paper until he finishes the year. Then he starts over on January 1st of the next year.

However you choose to approach the job of learning the historical events so you can set your ancestor in them, you can be sure your ancestor will come alive for you.

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