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Historical Timelines and Resources

For a genealogist, history encompasses a lot of ground -- history of locations, history of countries, history of religious or ethnic groups, history of society, history of military involvement, photographic history, and personal history. How you can use historical references and resources to understand your ancestors and focus on areas of further research are the topics of this lesson.

As a genealogist, you need to know about history -- a general knowledge of the historical era is needed in order to analyze fully your research. If you ignore history, you may be turning your back on a very useful research tool. Let's say you have an immigrant ancestor who set up shop as a doctor around 1780. Where did he get his training? Would he have been educated in the "old country" or would he have found training in his new homeland? Would he have gone to a university or medical school? What sort of medical training was available for that time period? Did he practice medicine in the country he left? Would he have served an apprenticeship? Did physicians at that time period have a good social standing, or where they looked upon as the working class? What laws might have had influence on his occupation? In general, how much was a doctor paid? How much would that money worth today? Would he be considered wealthy? Would he be able to purchase land?

What if you have an Irish ancestor who was adopted into a British family around the 1800's...were there adoption laws that early? Was the adoption instead a guardianship? What laws regulated guardianships at that time? Why was the adopting family chosen to take in the child? Might there be some formal records regarding the adoption/guardianship? Assuming the child was Catholic, how big of a role would religion play at that time? Where there laws regarding Catholics which might have some bearing on the child's fate?

You can see why a grasp of history is important in putting the circumstances of an ancestor's life in context. The problem most genealogists face is getting that grasp without drowning in a sea of history books. Unfortunately, finding the book you need is up to you and your reference librarian -- online you can conduct searches for history sites specific to the area you are researching. Once you've found a site, look for a bibliography (most historians and history buffs are very big on bibliographies). Note books that interest you, and locate a copy through your local library or by searching online library catalogs. Bookstores are also a good source of book ideas, both general history and genealogy-specific.

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