If you're not investigating social history to understand the time and place your ancestors lived, you're missing out on the clues that help you find more records for them. You'll also find it difficult to eventually write their stories.
What is social history?
Social history explores the ordinary lives of our ancestors. It includes their personal interactions, chosen occupations, beliefs, customs, how they relaxed, and with whom they associated in a specific place and time. Genealogists explore how the social environment of our ancestors impacted their decisions.
Social History Records on Findmypast
Findmypast has many collections to explore our ancestors' homelands to gather better insight into who they might have been. If you have ancestors from England, Wales, Canada, and the United States, you will want to dive into how to do social history using Findmypast.
When you're researching social history, you will rarely look for your ancestor's name. Instead, you're looking for where they lived and the things that they were involved in.
Researching social history on Findmypast begins in their card catalog.
Click Search in the top Menu bar.
Choose All Record Sets in the drop-down menu.
In the left menu, choose the Country or Region to filter the results.
To filter further, type in a county or parish.
In the right column, click on the column heading that says "Subcategory" to sort the items alphabetically.
Use the page advance navigation at the bottom of the table until you use the subcategory "Social History."
You could also type a town or county into the search book to further filter your results. I tend to stay broad before narrowing it down.
In the video, I chose to filter the results to Canada and then to Ontario.
How to Search the Findmypast Periodicals
When you find an interesting item, click through to open it up.
Some collections have a collection-specific search form. You can try a surname search. Be aware that if you have a surname such as Comfort, you're probably going to strike out very quickly.
Even though I couldn't find my ancestors in the Hamilton Centennial, the digital book had great information for my family history research.
To successfully use these records, go to the table of content or the first page and begin browsing and skimming the collection.
What to Look For in the Social History Collections
Once you reach the social history section, look for record collections that can tell you about your ancestors' locations. Look collections focused on ethnic groups, county histories, folklore, and biographies. As you explore, you might discover why records didn't exist at that time and place you're researching.
I found few things for my research project in Ontario, Canada- Hamilton Centennial 1846 - 1946.
A picture of Alexander of Tunis. Even if he's not my ancestor, his photo can help me tell a better story if he's directly in my story. Or, he might help me provide context to the clothing and hairstyles for people who lived in Hamilton in this time period, particularly in the political and upper social class.
Details about historical events that happened in Hamilton.
Information about local churches that are in the area.
Economic and Trade conditions
In the Ontario, Canada- Land Settlement In Upper Canada 1783-1840, I found first-hand accounts of the location.
"As to the religious conditions towards the middle of the last century, Dr. Norman MacLeod of the Barony Church Glasgow on his return from Canada gave this word picture of vacant parishes he had visited."
This book contains accounts from Dr. MacLeod as he visited the areas in Upper Canada. His accounts, while probably biased, will help us understand the living conditions of our ancestors.
Folk-Lore To Spice Up Your Family History
We can look for common folklore and customs that our ancestors practices in addition to historical and biographical details. In Ontario, Canada- German-Canadian Folk-Lore. This book detailing the "superstitions [that] were collected among German people many of them may, however, be of English or Scottish origin."
It shared some of the cures Germans had for common maladies:
Wearing earrings if you have sore eyes
If a bee stings you, kill it if possible, and the wound will not mortify.
A cure for lumbago is to lie on the floor face down and have a wife tread on the afflicted part.
How cool are these discoveries?
I can't tell you how awesome these details are. They have helped me understand some of the potential folklore for my German ancestors who moved to Kent, Canada. These customs can help me connect with them, even if I'm not certain they believed them or practiced them. Customs can turn a boring family history into something amazing.
↪️ Do you want to write a family history book?
Grab your copy of this FREE Writing Guide:
How to Include Social History Discoveries in Your Writing
While researching social history to do deeper genealogical research about your ancestors, you will certainly find cool tidbits to enhance the stories that you are writing.
Perhaps you found a piece of folklore that says, "When you have hair that is inclined to split, you should cut it during a full moon."
How can you use these new discoveries in your family history?
First, don't assert that your ancestor believed or practiced this home remedy unless you have a diary supporting this cure's usage.
Instead, you could write something like,
Many Germans in Ontario, Canada, had a variety of home remedies for common cures. One dealt with split ends in hair, which said, "When you have hair that is inclined to split, you should cut it during a full moon." Did Phebe Middlehelft apply this remedy while helping her five daughters care for their long hair?
Findmypast Can Help You Discover Your Ancestor's world.
Dive into the card catalog on Findmypast explore the Social History of your ancestors. These details can help you come to appreciate the past so much more. Not every social history collection is titled social history. You will also want to explore British and American newspapers on this genealogy website.
↪️ Do you want to dive even deeper into genetic genealogy, writing family histories, and climbing your family tree? Join the
FHF Xtra Premium Membership and get a wealth of exclusive content.
Learn more about the Findmypast Genealogy Website
The Findmypast website has a lot to offer family histories. Check out these research and tree-building articles.