Putting a Face to the Fellow (or Femme!)

We may find ourselves so immersed in searching records and various certificates that we may sometimes overlook the entire point of our genealogical search; to get to know our relatives. The recording of facts, figures and other miscellaneous data may impede our enjoyment of the true pleasure of genealogy if we let it. A family search should be much more than just a constant listing of names and dates, and archiving of documentation we may have uncovered. Our ancestors were real people, some of them colourful characters, and to not take the time to get to know them as intimately as possible would be a tragedy. The vital statistics we uncover should be a means to an end, rather than the be-all end-all of our journey.

One way to get to know your recently discovered ancestor is to find out as mauch as you can about the area they lived in. What sort of town or village was it, what about its geographical location, the standard of living there. Did any historical events happen nearby during your ancestor’s life that they may have taken part in? Taking the time to find out the answers to such questions can begin to help you develop a picture of your ancestor, help you to put a face to the fellow.

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You may be surprised how much more you begin to enjoy genealogy once you take this approach. This was your genealogical search becomes an awesome adventure rather than a tedious chore. In our day and age there is really no excuse for not researching your relative’s homeland thoroughly. There is so much information available on the internet, and if you want to delve even deeper, you’d be surprised what you can find out in your local library, or the one in their town. So many historical studies have been done over the years, that there is hardly a place on earth whose history has not been documented in some way.

Often overlooked areas of immense historical value are the subjects of social, political, and even national history. Your ancestor may not have stormed the Bastille, but they could have been one of the Swiss soldiers who defended the Marquis de Launay! In reality, though your ancestor may not have been involved in a major historical event, they may have lived in an area that was directly or seriously affected by it. Those with Irish ancestors for instance may have relatives who were affected the Great Potato Famine, or the conquering of William of Orange, and would have had strong opinions about those things.

The English and American Civil Wars are other events that would have influenced the lives of many people. Your relative may not have fought in any of these wars, but perhaps they had their property confiscated, or their house burned down by over zealous soldiers.

The important thing to remember is that your family members were real people, living real lives, with real issues. Try to picture them as you read about where they lived. Imagine what they may have looked like, and how they may have dressed.

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When you uncover that long elusive baptism certificate, picture a baby cradled in her or his mother’s arms, draped in her baptismal gown. Always try to view genealogy not as a scientific pursuit, but a genuine voyage of discovery. Your aim should be to find out about and get to know your ancestor as intimately as possible, not just to amass a collection of ancient paperwork.

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