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 […]

Google your Ancestors

Believe it or not, if you google your ancestors, you may be able to find something about them and their doings. Googling your ancestors is hit and miss, of course, but can be a surprisingly easy way to track down information. Increasing volumes of records are digitized, some available to you at no charge. Academic researchers may […]

DNA Testing

DNA testing has become an increasingly popular, and gradually more affordable, way to obtain information about one’s genealogy. Several years ago, I completed a DNA test to attempt to verify whether I had Native American ancestry, as I had grown up hearing was the case. It is very easy to locate online companies that do […]

Women and Property Rights

My puzzlement about serial marriages of a woman ancestor who lived in Arkansas during the 1800s eventually led me to look into women and property rights. She married three times, her second marriage being to my direct ancestor. The second and third marriages immediately followed the deaths of her first, then second husband. Each marriage produced […]

Peopling a White Nation

While it is common knowledge that the Founding Fathers envisioned the U.S. to be white , most of us of European descent avoid (or don’t think about) situating the history of our own families within an intentional project aimed at peopling a white nation. A very common story among white people (not only in the U.S. […]

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. […]