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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Tuesday Tip - Ideas For Blogging About Ancestors You Never Met



Tuesday’s Tip is a daily blogging prompt at Geneabloggers.com used by many genealogy bloggers to help them post content on their sites. What advice would you give to another genealogist or family historian

Sometimes when we work on genealogy we get too bogged down in dates and places. Genealogy is often like a puzzle where we find dates and plug them in like puzzle pieces. And it's a very satisfying feeling when you can plug in a fact date and place. But it can make for dull reading so we need to try think of ways to bring these ancestors to life. They weren't just born and they didn't just marry and die. They lived.

First of all, they lived the history we read about. For instance, most of us remember 9/11... what we were doing and how it affected us. We were living during an historical event! One hundred years from now, someone may be working on their genealogy and come across our name. Will they just plug in dates and places or will they wonder how we felt on 9/11? Will they wonder what we did that day, how we reacted, etc? Well, our ancestors were the same way. They also lived during historical events. Things affected their lives and determined the course of their lives.

So, when you want to flesh out an ancestor you might first learn the history that was going on during their lifetime.

Let's say John Doe lived between 1898-1974 in Chicago, IL. What was going on in America in 1898? What was going on in Chicago in 1898? What major events occurred in America during John Doe's lifetime? He lived through WWI, WWII, Korea and Vietnam, the Spanish Flu Pandemic, the Great Depression, the first man walked on the moon, Kennedy's assassination, etc. Who were the Presidents of the United States during his lifetime? William McKinnley, Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhour, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon.

What happened in Chicago during his lifetime? With the expansion of the railroads, Chicago's manufacturing and retail sectors grew and dominated. The Chicago Union Stock Yards dominated the packing trade. Chicago became the world's largest rail hub, and one of its busiest ports by shipping traffic on the Great Lakes.In 1906 journalist Upton Sinclair published “The Jungle,” a novel that exposed cruel and unsafe practices in the city’s meatpacking industry. Chicago, along with the state of New York, became the center of the nation's advertising industry. Social upheavals surrounding World War I brought many African-American migrants to Chicago from the South. They found new opportunities and a vibrant cultural community that soon gave birth to Chicago’s versions of blues and jazz. Tensions arose between the newcomers and Chicago’s established Irish, Polish and German ethnic groups, leading to a string of bombings of African-American homes between 1917 and 1921, as well as an eight-day race riot in 1919. By the 1930s Chicago’s population reached 3 million. Gangsters, namely Al Capone and John Dillinger, dominated the headlines in the 1930's. These are just a few things going on in Chicago. My point being, old John Doe lived through these things and we can imagine how they affected him and blog about that.

You can do the same with your ancestors. Determine the years they were born and died and then look at the history that occurred in the world, their country, state and town during those times. It might help us determine a few things. For instance, let's say John Doe was in the 1920 U.S. Census and his occupation was "Butcher" in stockyards. Knowing some of the history about the stockyards would help give you a better insight into John Doe's life and occupation and you can blog about it.

If you know they attended a certain church, see if you can find a history of the church. Same with schools. For instance, I found out that my grandfather attended a local academy and I was able to find a picture and some history of the school.

What about your ancestor's occupation? Was your 3 great grandfather a farmer? Then what were the farming techniques of his time period? Was your ancestor a textile mill worker? Then try to find some history of the cotton mill he worked at.

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Another idea for blogging about your ancestor is to write about what you think your relationship with this person would have been like. Do you have any feeling of common ground? Did you have common interests? Maybe your ancestor was known for her good cooking and you also enjoy cooking. Or maybe your ancestor was a charter member of a Baptist church and you attend the same church today or are also a Baptist. Did you become a policeman because it runs in the family from the time of your great grandfather? Do you feel like the sea is in your blood and come to find out your ancestor was a sailor? Blog about the things you might have had in common and how it makes you feel close to an ancestor you never got to meet.

Or maybe you don't think you would have been close to your ancestor because....? Let's say your ancestor was a slave trader. You can learn about his occupation and look into the history of slave trading to give you a better idea of what he did. If it's a fact, you can't just white it out and pretend it didn't happen. But learning about it, doesn't mean you approve or accept his occupation. So blog about how you feel about this ancestor and what they did. I've found an ax murderer and thief, moonshiners, unwed mothers and bastard children, a lynching, etc in my research. These scandalous ancestors may be ancestors you don't like. You can express yourself and your feelings. ALWAYS learn about the situation, to the best of your ability, before making judgments. They lived in a different time and grew up with their own set of problems and there are reasons why they did what they did or thought the way they thought. You might find out the ax murderer had an abusive family life and was an alcoholic. Of course, this may help you understand how they ended up being an ax murderer but it doesn't mean you are okay with murder.So blog about what you've found out and how you feel about it.

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Blog about the things you admire about your ancestor. I have an ancestor who was a Baptist minister in a tiny Western NC mountain church. A few years ago I had the privilege of being able to visit that church. It just so happen that they have rebuilt a log church that was like the first church. It's right next to their modern church building. On the walls inside, they have a list of the pastors of the church throughout all those years and the history. I got to see the tiny little log church and it made me admire the pastor and his congregation for all the hardships they endured in order to meet together in that uncomfortable tiny log church. They had to get up very early to take care of their livestock before they left for church. They had to get themselves ready without indoor plumbing and electricity. They had to hitch up the horses to the wagon. When they got to church, there was no automatic heat/air conditioning. There was no sound system, comfy padded pews, elaborate organ, grand piano, a band. There was no Sunday school materials and study Bibles. Education was simple or nil. My 4th great grandfather had no formal seminary training or college education. He could read the Bible and that was all he had. And yet, in The History of the French Broad Association by John Ammons it says, "He had but little education, but he was a man of fine common sense; He loved God and humanity, and devoted his life with all that that meant to preaching to lost men the gospel of salvation from sin. He was a man of one book - the Bible. God's word was the armory whence he drew his weapons, and his sermons were made up of scripture quotations so nicely dovetailed together that to the listener he seemed a very evangel delivering a message from the spirit world. The writer heard him when a small boy, and to his latest acquaintance with him his words made his heart to burn. All who knew him loved him, and yet he lived and died in poverty, his only reward being the consciousness of having done his duty. He died about 1863, and sleeps in an unmarked grave."

As you can see, I admire his faith and work and I can blog about this.

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Another suggestion to help you blog about your ancestor is to write a letter to this ancestor. What are the questions you would ask this ancestor? What news about your life would make your ancestor smile? I know that my 4th great grandfather who was a Baptist preacher would be thrilled to know that his 4th great grandchild, me, is saved and loves the Lord. So I could put that in the letter I write to him.

Maybe there are things you wished you had said to your grandparents before they died. Tell them in the letter.

Write about memories you do have of them. I knew my great grandmother and I can blog about what I remember about her. How her voice sounded, the rag dolls she made us, that she dipped snuff, how clean she was, her sewing/crocheting/knitting skills, etc.

Write about memories you wished you had of them. "I wish I could have sat in your lap while you read stories to me. I feel sure you would have smelled of lavendar and the sound of your voice reading would have made me fall asleep in your arms."

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If you have a photograph of the person, blog about what you see in the photograph. Does everyone say you look like Great Grandpa? Blog about how the resemblance you have. Maybe you have the Doe nose or the Smith blue eyes. One of my 4 great grandmother's was known to have a beautiful singing voice and red hair. If I can sing or if I have red hair, I could blog about these similarities.

Even if you don't have a photograph but you know personality traits or physical attributes you can compare them to yourself. WWI draft registration cards documents height (short, medium, tall), build (slight, medium, heavy), color of eyes/hair and if they were bald or had a disability that would prevent them from serving. WWII Army Enlistment records gives height and weight. WWII draft registration cards listed height, weight, color of eyes, color of hair and complexion (light, ruddy, etc). Sometimes you find hints of their physical attributes in newspaper stories about them. Just last week I was researching someone who was a sheriff's deputy from 1908-1911. So he was in the local newspaper quite often and I gleaned hints of how big he was. "The big deputy"; "The deputy, strong man tho' he is, found more than his match in the woman."

Then there are the similarities in your personality versus your ancestor. Was your ancestor a farmer and you are too, it's in your blood? Blog about traits that you share.

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If your ancestor traveled you might blog about their journeys. Maybe include a map that shows their route. How did they make this journey? By wagon, train, ship? What did they take with them? For instance, did your ancestor migrate West? If you know their route, blog about it. Did they immigrate from Ireland to the United States? Blog about it. Blog about their community. I have been researching a line that lived in a general area of about 40 miles. There were little communities in this area. I plan to color shade a map of this area and to blog about it. I don't know where their exact property was but I know they lived in that general area. So I can show the map, indicate where cemeteries are, and talk about how old roads in the area were links to the communities. Or maybe your ancestor followed the old wagon roads to migrate to North Carolina. Blog about what the trip might have been like. The hardships they may have faced. Why such a migration? Why did they leave and why did they stop where they stopped?

Using history to help trace your ancestor includes asking the question why they moved where they did or why they stayed where they were. Let's say your ancestor was born in Asheville, NC but moved to California in 1850. Why did they move so far from home? If you look at history, you will find the California Gold Rush began in 1848. Could that have been the reason?

I have found ancestors who lived in the same place for 3 or more generations. And I've found ancestors who moved around a lot. Either way, you can blog about it.

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I hope I have given you some inspiration on how to make your ancestor into a real person and not just a statistic. These people were much like you except they lived in a different time. They had feelings, hopes, dreams, talents, interests, prejudices and biases, problems and solutions. We can try to give them life in our blog posts and not just list statistics.



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