11 June 2012

Knowledge of history is important when working with genealogy

Sometimes it is imperative that one know a little about the history of a region as they are researching their family tree. One does not need to be an expert in history to be an avid genealogist, but it is recommended that one learn at least a little about the areas their families have come from or settled.

For instance:

  • Knowing a little about the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 allowed me to understand the reasons why some of my ancestors migrated from Alsace to the United States in 1880.  Alsace was a province of France and the family did not like the German regime that took over the territory after the war.
  • The city of Pittsburgh, where a portion of my family had once settled, went by several names over the years, particularly the North Side.  Deutschtown, Birmingham, Allegheny City, Temperanceville are all now neighborhoods or former towns that were absorbed into Pittsburgh Learning that and also when they were absorbed has helped me find the records I needed.
  • 1918 was the biggest influenza pandemic the world had ever seen.  Over a quarter of the world's population was infected between 1918 and 1920 and millions died.  Whole families were affected.  While luckily none of my closer family members did not perish in this pandemic, there are a few distant cousins that died.  
  • During the Great Depressions, hundreds of people migrated from the Plains, which were experiencing a drought to the cities to find work.  Some came to states like California.  Knowing this might help find a missing family member
 History and Genealogy go hand in hand.  If one doesn't know what is going on in a family's life history wise, then how might one be able to determine what might have happened to a missing family member or branch.  Often time, research materials pertaining to a family are missed because they are in places one does not know where to look because one has no knowledge of the history of the place.

A couple of books that are great to have on hand when researching American history are  Kenneth C. Davis' Don't Know Much About History or Seymour Morris Jr.'s American History RevisedHistory Magazine is another great reference, as well as any old fashioned book from the library.  There are even resources online, such as the much maligned Wikipedia (I have only found a few factual errors in the history I have read there) or a good old fashioned Google search.   For harder to find subjects, there's also Historical societies or Inter-Library Loans (both of which I have used).

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