If you have read many of my blog posts, here and elsewhere, you may remember me talking about how I love studying the social history aspect of genealogy. For me it really breathes life into the people I am researching. It is a way for me to connect to them. To feel their plight. Know what they lived through. Read about what they saw. Be jealous at the prices they paid!
While I think I know how to do social history research I am not confident enough to say I know everything about it. By listening to others lecture on the subject and reading as much as I can I am hopeful some holes in my knowledge will fill in and learn new insights into this field of study.
According to the Merriam Webster online dictionary social history is defined as “history that concentrates upon the social, economic, and cultural institutions of a people.” This definition refers to a group of people, but it very well could be the study of one person. Often a case study is called the social history of a person. I know how much we genealogists love a good case study!
One thing I think we should look at more as researchers are what the childhoods of our ancestors were like. Looking back at my own family I do not know a lot about my ancestor’s childhoods. A few stories from my great grandparents have made it to me but as for many of them they are a big black hole until they start creating records of their own.
I have thought about that more and more making me realize that it is a shame we don’t have more reliable resources on childhood through ages. Especially to fill in the lives of those members of our extended families who did not make it to adult hood.
As the daughter of the doctor I tend to love learning about the history of the health industry. You know disease, mortality, injuries and so forth. If you have ever read a pension record, or a newspaper article for that matter, there are times that we need to educate ourselves on the names of common diseases used at the times our ancestors lived.
Of course, the medical fields roll into a common human theme of abuse of drugs and alcohol. If you think that drug and alcohol abuse are only a modern problem, think again. It affected our ancestors in different ways, especially when it may have been your doctor getting you addicted, but there were still implications on the home and family. A part of social history that was shameful for many families, but can demonstrate a familial link of dependence and addiction which seems almost inherited in some people.
On a brighter note have your ever thought about how technology effected the lives of your ancestors? You know, little inventions like the portable camera. A little over 100 years ago Kodak created a smaller camera that now allowed people to take their own pictures. It spread like wild fire. Now nearly everyone has a camera (especially if they have a phone). I sat and thought about how my recent ancestor’s way of documenting their lives changed. No pictures, to a few, to dozens, and now thousands of pictures a year. Just imagine how that changed the way they felt about each other then and the way they could now remember special events.
If you are still not sure why you should consider studying social history, here are a few resources you should read about on why social history is an important field of study for genealogists.
· Lisa Louis Cooke Genealogy Gems “Tell your Ancestor’s Story: Use Social History for Genealogy” http://lisalouisecooke.com/2015/09/social-history-for-genealogy/
· Gena Philibert Ortega “100 Social History Websites”
· Katherine Scott Sturdevant Bringing Your Family History to Life Through Social History http://www.amazon.com/Bringing-Family-History-Through-Social/dp/1558705104