Last week I attended a dinner FamilySearch hosted for the leaders of the Board for the Certification of Genealogists (BCG). As a part of the evening we were discussing ways that we could create a more rich experience with the 1940 census. There were many excellent ideas that started me thinking.
Our lives today are very different from out ancestors, particularly before 1900. Most of our ancestors lived in a world without change. They were born, grew up, and died in a world where things were done the same way. The way things had been done had been basically the same for their fathers, grandfathers, and great grandfathers.
The more research performed on an ancestor, the more we come to know them. We come to understand their family members, their occupation, where they lived, and other factual information. If we are being thorough in our research we come to know about the place where they lived in and its customs and geography.
The most difficult, but often the most rewarding, is coming to know what our ancestors would have considered in their day-to-day lives and what their view of the world would have been. Answering questions about what they would have worried about and what was their likely worldview can help us to know them better. It is interesting to consider what type of music they would have listened to. What clothes did they wear is another interesting research topic. Other things to consider are what sized village, town or city they lived in, what church they attended, and who were the political leaders.
It is a difficult task that requires much more research than simply finding where and when they were born, married, and died. The quest, however, has many rewards and the feeling of understanding ourselves through our past is irreplaceable.
As the 1940 census is released next year there will be a unique opportunity to come to know those ancestors better. You will likely have known someone who is listed in the census. Perhaps you are listed. There are significant historical resources to help understand life in the 40s. Many towns have pictures of the significant places in 1940. It is relatively easy to find music from that Era. The Morgan County News was published during that time frame so you can view the newspapers from that time and see what the local topics were.
As you have time over the coming holiday season take a few minutes and do a little walk through the past. Put yourself in your ancestor’s shoes. Whether you pick an ancestor who was alive in 1940, 1840, 1740, or before, you will learn something new about them and yourself. The perspective you gain will help you in your research, and in your life.