It’s Not Made By Great Men – Social History and Genealogy

Back in the day, history meant the study of kings and queens, battles and the victors in those battles – essentially the study of large-scale historical events. However, in the 1970s, a new branch of history would revolutionise the study of the past – social history.

Social history had a new focus—the stories of ordinary people and their everyday lives, how  families really lived and what average people really did. Why shouldn’t your granny’s life be as important as the Queen’s? The resemblances between social history and genealogy are obvious, and both fields of enquiry complement each other.

Social historians use pretty much the same records – to similar purposes – as genealogists, going through such documents as censuses, deeds, wills, and church records. The difference is that the social historian is looking for the situation as it affects the general population, while genealogists are just searching for their ancestors.

However, this doesn’t mean that genealogy is less valuable than social history, The well-documented heritages and family histories that can be assembled on the quest for a family tree can be a great help to social historians. Our ancestors, after all, were not unique. They were very similar to other people in their communities, so studying them can give you a clue to patterns of behaviour happening in wider society.

Reading books about people in similar situations to our ancestors is fascinating, and beneficial to our research and understanding of our pasts. When you’re collating your family history to share your genealogical research, you should consider the effects of social history, perhaps using it as historical background for your readers if you have a blog. Social history adds context, depth and human interest, by placing ordinary people in their historical context, and showing the larger forces that have affected their lives.

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