Family Tree

Social Affairs

One unusual piece of advice:

If your genealogy research is stuck or you’ve “lost” your ancestor, stop actually looking for that particular ancestor.

Instead, turn your attention to the events happening around them and the social issues that could have been influencing their life and the decisions they made. Consider questions like:

• Why did your ancestors make the decisions they did?
• Why did they migrate to another state?
• Why did those great-great grandparents cross the state or county border to get married?
• Why did that great-grandfather choose to work in that occupation?
• What did a Monday morning in May of 1890 look like for your ancestor?

And why should you care about the answers to these questions? Quite simply, genealogy researchers need to understand the influences on their ancestors’ lives and decision-making to find those brick-wall ancestors. And, in general, understanding the answers to these and other questions about social history gives us better insight into the lives our ancestors lived.

In this article, I’ll walk you through the various aspects of “social history,” and what records you can use to learn about them.


The dictionary definition indicates “social” history considers the social, economic and cultural factors related to a group of people. And in a similar way, for the genealogist, social history refers to the trends, events and forces (local, regional and national)

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