Thursday, 11 April 2013

Family Tree Research - Bringing Your Ancestors 'Back to Life'

As a family historian, you are going to have good days and bad.

The good days might see you discover a new line of your family, maybe a sibling of a great-grandparent with lots of supporting evidence.  Your heart beats a little bit faster and your great grandparents look a little less lonely on their particular branch of the tree.

On bad days, you discover nothing or hit a brick wall and feel like you have wasted money on your subscription to whichever site you are using and you also think that brick wall means "that's it!"  You've finished!  You've gotten as far as you can go.

But don't give up.  There is more to family tree research than putting names down on a piece of paper.

Let's face it, a few months into your research, you're already sick of looking at your own surname and your own home town appearing over and over again.

If you find someone born in a different county or state, you feel like you've struck gold - your family weren't always living in your town - some of them had to move there; and given the decade you are looking at, maybe they had to move there on foot, or on a horse and cart.

Now imagine if you were moving to the next state or the next town; could you do it easily?  Knowing that because the new town is hundreds of miles away, you might never return?  You might be leaving behind parents or brothers and sisters.  In those days, you might never see them again and only contact them by letter (if you could read and write).

So if you're stuck or you hit a brick wall, why not head off in another direction?

I Wonder What Their Town Looked Like Back Then?

  • You know their names
  • You know where they lived, you might even know the name of the street (census?)
  • You know when they lived there - 1881? 1901? 1911?

Time for some real history - you have the internet at your disposal.

Go onto Google images and put in the name of your town and the year you are researching,

e.g. Plumstead, 1881 or Arlington, Texas 1901.

Let's see what Google images returns for this.

This is an image called The Lake, Plumstead and appears on the following website:

I should say, at this point, that my ancestors moved FROM Plumstead to North East England, looking at this idyllic photo makes me wonder why?

And how does Arlington, Texas fair on Google images (why Texas you ask?  I am watching a baseball game in the UK between the Rangers and the LA Angels and I have a soft spot for Texas).

This photo is of 'Mineral Well' taken in about 1900 which was basically, the centre of Arlington when it was being established.

Isn't it an amazing photo when you think about what Arlington has become?  Look at the horses in the muddy street and the street is brimming with people.

The photo is from the following website:

So don't be so quick to slam shut your laptop or switch off your PC.

Go on Google images and try to at least know something more about the place in which your ancestors lived.

Imagine wearing those clothes and walking down those streets.

Is the sun shining?  Or is it the depths of winter and people are huddled against the cold.

Save the images to your Family Tree Folder and print them off for your file.

Suddenly the ancestors you've had success in finding have a home and you know what their home town looked like at the time that they were walking around.

Here's a little video about one of my ancestors - I found out that he died in a mining accident in 1884, leaving his children orphaned (his wife had died the year before aged 27).  Did I just want them to be names on a page? No.  I needed to bring myself a bit closer to them and this is how I did it.

Let me know about your family research adventures.  If you are from the north east of England, you might enjoy the videos featured in this article about Geordie folk band, The Unthanks; they get back down to what the nineteenth century was really like in this area -keep it real!

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