Racial Categories in the Census

A clear example of the social construction of race are the racial categories in the census.  When sifting through the U.S. census to construct family trees and portraits of ancestors’ neighbors, you will notice that people are always classified by race. You may be tempted to believe that means something fixed, decade after decade. In fact, however, […]

Property Records

What property did your ancestors own? Who (or what entity, such as a state) did they acquire it from? Where was it?  If land, how many acres was it and how did they acquire it? These are fascinating questions to pursue, especially if you are interested in tracing how land has been distributed, and who […]

Asking Historical Context Questions

Usually when doing family history research, people construct a family tree and locate as much as they can about individual family members, then stop without considering much about the context of family members’ lives. Why is asking historical context questions important? Contexts in which people were living help to explain how they lived, why they may […]

Digitized Historical Newspapers

Until the last few decades, newspapers and magazines were the primary forms of media. Not only did cities publish their own newspapers, but small towns did so as well, with probably more local news than is the case today. For research on family and local context history, then, digitized historical newspapers, like the one to the […]

Census Data Show Housing Patterns

Many people, especially white people, assume families generally live wherever they choose and can afford, and have done so for generations. Actually census data show housing patterns — using U.S. Census data, you can examine assumption about who lives where. You may discover patterns you hadn’t anticipated. Take a census page that includes someone in your family tree. […]

U.S. Census Data

Many tools, databases, and repositories are available for family history research, and for historical context research. In most cases, U.S. Census data is the best place to start, both for information about your ancestors, and also for contextual information about who lived around them. On census records, you can find out not only the names […]