Thursday, October 13, 2011

History or Genealogy?

I've been accused of being more interested in history than genealogy. Is it true? Maybe, but how do you separate one from the other? How do you research a person without taking into consideration the economic situation of the area and his political and religious beliefs? Do you discount everything but names and dates of births, marriages and deaths?

How can you understand how your ancestor lived if you don't know what events he witnessed or which events played a part in the decisions he made? Do you just forget that he served in the Civil War and suffered from his wounds the rest of his life? Do you forget that he was a minister and helped establish a new church?

On the other hand, how can you understand history if you don't research the people who participated in the events? Do you study the Civil War as a series of conflicts without looking at the men who fought the battles?

Where does one stop and the other begin? In my mind, history and genealogy support each other and must be studied and researched together to get a more complete picture of our ancestors. What do you think?


Susan Clark said...

Oh my (substituting for my more colorful response to this)! I agree wholeheartedly. I've never understood the concept of filling a pedigree chart with names but having no interest in the lives those ancestors lived. I probably go deeper into the history than others - that was my first love - but it seems genealogy must involve historical context.

As to what history must involve - volumes have been written. I believe it must examine the lives of the people who lived it.

LSW said...

I was a good history student, but never fully appreciated what studying history meant until I started placing my ancestors into the time lines. Likewise, I was oblivious to the need to study geography until I started plugging the ancestors into the world map. Now I find that history, geography and ancestry all blend to make a great 3D picture of where I come from. Remove any of the elements and you go back to a flat picture.

Brenda Joyce Jerome said...

Well said, ladies!

owlhart said...

In school, history was a favorite subject of mine. Of course, the history taught in school is much about governments, laws, wars, etc.

My love of history has increased many times more as a result of my genealogy research; town histories, profiles of individuals, development of counties - more about the lives of real people; of course, I get even more excited when my direct ancestors are mentioned. I am an accountant by day, putting dates and numbers into spreadsheets and accounting programs. But at night, I thrive on being able to put sentences and paragraphs into my genealogy program, not just dates. For me, this brings the individuals to life.

Nanakat said...

I realized the importance of history in connection with genealogy when I first looked at a pedigree chart showing ancestors of mine who lived in New England in the 1600s. Almost all of them had estimated birthdates before 1620, and birthplaces given as if they had been born in New England (and no "of New England" type birthplaces, either!). I was appalled.

One thing I would very much like to know more about is the Trail of Tears that, as I understand it, went through Western Kentucky. I have ancestors who may have known some of the Cherokee who were on that journey, since my ancestors came from northwestern South Carolina to Western Kentucky only about 30 years before.

I found a Lyon County history that did not even mention the Trail of Tears, and I thought that was rather strange.

Or am I confused about where the Trail actually went?

Brenda Joyce Jerome said...

These websites might be of interest to you:

Lyon County wasn't created until 1854. The Trail of Tears went through Caldwell County and Livingston County.

Nanakat said...

Thank you so much, I'll check those websites out.

I realize that Lyon County, as a county, wasn't there during the Trail of Tears, but it was created from the counties that were, and the book purported to cover pre-Lyon County history. And that's what perplexed me, because even though it went back to 1800, there was no mention of the Trail of Tears, as if that wasn't important to the history of the area.

Was it ignored on purpose?

Nanakat said...

I've visited the websites you recommended, and it's good to know that attention is now being paid to places along the Trail.

I'm wondering if there are any records from that time that are from the point of view of the Kentuckians living in the area through which the Trail passed.

It would be very interesting to know what the people thought of the whole thing, especially those from northwestern South Carolina who might have lived near and known the Cherokee in their original homeland.

Brenda Joyce Jerome said...

Nanakat: A good many of the settlers in this part of western Kentucky came from the upstate in South Carolina.

If you will email me at I will give you the contact info for someone who might be able to answer your questions.