Finding the context in a person’s life is one of my favorite things about genealogy. I love finding more than just names and dates. Occupations, addresses, family tragedies, world events, awards, military service – they all shape a person’s life.
My favorite places to learn about context are newspapers and city directories (for home addresses and work places). Censuses have some information that could be useful for context, like occupation or whether the person was blind or deaf. Divorce filings often have a lot of juicy details.
Here are some of my previous blog posts, for which I used a lot of newspapers and city directories:
I stumbled upon this website, Rural Diary Archive, because I was researching my Wilson/Thompson/Gibson line on Amherst Island, Ontario. The founder of the project, Dr. Catharine Anne Wilson (maybe a relative, maybe not!), wrote a book called A New Lease on Life: Landlords, Tenants and Immigrants in Ireland and Canada, which explores landlord-tenant relationships on Amherst Island especially tenant families that migrated from the Ards Peninsula in County Down to Amherst Island between 1820 and 1860.
Anyway, the Rural Diary Archive “showcases over 150 Ontario diarists from 1800 to 1960.” The diaries come from museums and archives across Ontario. You can search transcribed diaries, as well as browse by county, occupation, ethnicity/nationality, and religion. I did find one diary from Amherst Island, written in 1872-1879 by George Wright. That is part of the time period the Wilson’s and Thompson’s lived on the island, but I haven’t a chance to read it yet. Hopefully, it will give me some insight on daily life.
The Archive also has a Twitter account (@RuralDiaries) that tweets diary entries in an “On this Day” format.
One ancestor that I’ve never had any problem researching is my great-grandfather Earl Ervan Belknap.
I’ve noticed a couple characteristics “easy-to-research” ancestors have in common including:
They are male. Therefore, their surnames don’t usually change over time.
They have lived within your memory or the memory of a person you know. This is how you find out quirks that the documents don’t reveal. Like my father remembering that Earl always ate his dessert before dinner. It’s also a way to find photographs of the ancestor.
They lived at a time and place where city directories are available. This helps figure out where they were living when, especially for un-indexed documents.