Book Review: The Hare with the Amber Eyes

A friend, knowing my interest in family history in its wider social context, recommended that I read Edmund de Waal’s The Hare with the Amber Eyes. What a wonderful book! Essentially, it is a memoir about de Waal’s Jewish ancestors in Europe prior to, then during, the Holocaust. One can read it as a moving and beautifully-written […]

Book Review: Kin, a New Zealand Family

In her book about a New Zealand family, the McCulloughs, Melanie Nolan challenges us to think about the relationship between broad social structures (her main interest is social class and gender), individual agency, and the nexus of family. She explains in Kin: A Collective Biography (published in 2005 by Canterbury Press): “We choose our friends, our social networks […]

Legacy of Slavery in the Family

What would you do if you were white and discovered a legacy of slavery, which many of us did whether we know it or not? That is exactly the question Katrina Browne, Thomas DeWolf, and several of their relatives confronted. In the preface to the book Inheriting the Trade: A Northern Family Confronts its Legacy […]

Racism, Inheritance and Family Financial Aid

“I didn’t own slaves, why should I feel guilty?” is a common response of White people to hearing about racism today. This response regards slavery and theft of Indigenous peoples’ land as so ancient that paying attention to them today only invites anger and guilt. But I will show how racial privilege is a living […]

Becoming White: Putting Race Back into a Family Story

I grew up hearing stories about a great-great-grandmother who immigrated from Switzerland to the U.S. by way of New Orleans. According to stories, she was a linguist who spoke four or five languages fluently, an accomplished seamstress, and a medium. (My siblings and I loved the idea of a New Orleans fortune-teller in the family […]

Context Questions Framework

Many entries in this blog illustrate situating information about your ancestors in a social, cultural, and historical context, and the entry on Context Questions lays out the kinds of questions you might ask. But how do you actually get started in a way that isn’t just hit and miss? This article offers a useful framework […]

Locating Mexican Family Roots from Outside Mexico

Although I am not of Mexican descent personally, many people I work with are, and ask about locating Mexican family roots from outside Mexico. So, this page will help people in the U.S. who have Mexican ancestry get started. Obviously, if you can travel to Mexico, many more sources would be available to you than […]

Wills and Inherited Wealth

Did you know that as much as 80% of family wealth in the United States comes from inherited wealth? That is the conclusion Carole Shammas, Marylynn Salmon and Michael Dahlin (1997) reached in their book Inheritance in America, published by Rutgers University Press. Family wealth can be passed on either before or after parents’ or […]

Can Census Data Reveal Racism in Employment?

Recently I was asked whether opportunities were any better for European immigrants in the late 1800s than for freed African Americans in the North. The asker of the question assumed that after the Civil War, opportunities had evened out. I wanted to examine this question with data, and do so specifically with relationship to my own […]

Historical Societies

Historical societies are wonderful resources for information about the historical contexts in which your ancestors lived. There are historical societies (or other history centers) at the state, county, and city levels. The easiest way to locate those relevant to your work is online. For example, I live in California. The state has a large historical […]