While it can be infinitely fun for a genealogist to pore over a list of names or a series of transcriptions of genealogical records, sometimes it’s good to broaden one’s horizons and learn some social history of your ancestral family. Discovering something about the common practices, beliefs, and mores of your ancestors can help you to better put them in perspective and to interpret the records they left behind in a way that reflects them as accurately as possible.
Probably one of my favorite social histories is a study of farming practices in Illinois in the mid-19th and very early 20th centuries. Like most books of this type, what’s best for us is reflective of our ethnic and geographic past. The book studies farming practices of several immigrant groups in Illinois in addition to “native” Americans.
- Prairie Patrimony: Family, Farming, and Community in the Midwest (Studies in Rural Culture)–an analysis of farming communities in Illinois but applicable to much of the Midwest.
There are numerous other studies of ethnic groups, occupations, social classes, etc. that have been published by scholars in a variety of fields. One may concentrate on your ancestral group.
Just don’t expect them to mention your ancestor by name. Reading social history is to give you ancestral perspective, not ancestral details.