Although the study of genealogy (family history research) has been around for a long time, it’s popularity has increased significantly over the past few decades. This is not only because of the availability of information on the internet (notably the 1901 census) but also because of TV programmes such as Roots: The Saga of an American Family by Alex Haley which was shown back in the 1970s and more recently the BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are?.
In the past, the study of genealogy was confined to the nobility and royalty so there is little documented about the lives of ‘ordinary’ people other than (more recently) records of births, marriages and deaths. However, because of the vast amount of information genealogists uncover in their quest to discover the heritage of their own families, they are in the unique position of being able to fill in some of the gaps in our social history.
Family history research is not about searching for famous ancestors
For some genealogists seeing just how far back they can trace their family history or looking for a line of descent that links them to royalty or nobility or finding an ancestor that is famous or infamous is what motivates them. However, the desire to be descended from William the Conqueror (or whoever) or being able to claim a lineage back to the Anglo Saxons, the Normans (or whatever) is not what genealogy is all about for most people. Instead it is a desire to learn about their own heritage (no matter now ordinary) in order to feel a connection with the past. It is the stories they tell of how their ancestors lived and how geography, economics and politics influenced their lives that turns their genealogical research into family history.
Your stories are part of our social history
If your research doesn’t uncover any famous or notable ancestors this doesn’t make the story of your family any less valid or less interesting. Researching and writing your family history gives you the opportunity to explore and write about the lives of people you have a personal connection to in an historical and social context. And it is these stories (stories of ordinary people living real lives) which play such an important part in our social history.