Your Family History
Few of us have famous ancestors. But in the same way as historians have widened their interests in recent years from Kings, Queens and
Presidents to the history of ordinary people, genealogy offers us the opportunity to see how people 'just like us' lived their lives
through the centuries.
Some amateur genealogists approach their search for ancestors along the lines of stamp collecting - simply
filling in the gaps and recording basic data such as names, dates of birth and death, marriage partners and offspring.
However, it is possible to go further and to build up a word picture detailed enough to understand something of
ancestors' personalities, life histories and the circumstances in which they went about their lives. This can be seen as an
opportunity to honour ancestors who mostly went unrecorded and to give them an element of immortality.
Social histories and the biographies of famous people can be a source of information about the lives of ordinary people.
Agricultural labourers, coal miners, engine drivers, chimney sweeps all did certain things in certain ways at specific times and in specific regions.
That is not to say that the lives of all agricultural labourers in, say, Somerset during the 1890s were the same, but they had
a lot in common and there are recorded details of the typical circumstances of such people.
Understanding these aspects of social history will not only allow the researcher
to understand why ancestors behaved in a certain way (moved, emigrated, etc.) but also offer the insight to predict what may have happened to a
family member who 'disappeared'. For example, many individuals from the Welsh coalfields emigrated to the coal areas of
Pennsylvania in the late 19th century.
Not everyone has the necessary set of skills to build a fully illustrated and referenced social history of their families, but a worthy attempt can
be made by most educated people with a modicum of effort and organisation.
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