Friday, September 4, 2015

Knowing Our Place:
the Symbiotic Relationship Between
Local History and Genealogy

While it didn't take my rain-drenched recent visit to Florida to realize this, the morning spent at the Fort Meade Museum pointed out the value of knowing the local history enveloping our ancestors' lives. Reawakening my awareness of that fact has revived a researcher's wanderlust, and I'm wishing for time and resources to revisit places like my mother in law's home in Perry County, Ohio—as well as journey into new family history territory like the hometown of my maternal grandfather in Unicoi County and his wife's mother's birthplace in Washington County, both in Tennessee.

Of course, what can't be accomplished by a personal visit can at least be augmented by the many online resources of digitized history tomes of the previous century. When beginning to research a new residence for any denizens of my family tree, a must-stop place in my virtual world is Google, for a search through "History of" titles—fill in the blanks with the name of county and state and voilà! A possible new resource for discovering more about a family line.

It was the benefits of last year's research journey—our trip to Ireland to trace my father in law's eight Irish great grandparents and their families—that reminded me of the value of on-site research. One of the more delightful evenings during our research trip was our research group's dinner meeting with the directors of Irish history and heritage company Eneclann. Though I knew I'd only be in Ireland for a brief three weeks, I added my name to Eneclann's mailing list—which, of course, has done nothing but make me wish I were headed back to Dublin.

One of the features of the Eneclann service has been a genealogy-focused lecture series, held at the National Library of Ireland. Yesterday's flier did nothing to assuage my lament that Dublin would not be an easy commute for this researcher. But it did resonate with my recent thoughts on the value of reaching out and touching the places that belong to our ancestors' history.

One of the Eneclann lectures—hurry, my Irish friends, it is scheduled for next Thursday—continues the week's theme of looking into the role of local history in family history. In fact, it is that day's speaker who inspired today's post title. Such an apt way to put this concept: knowing our place.

Séamas Ó Maitiú, the September 10 speaker, will include in his presentation ten questions to pursue while exploring the history of your ancestors' hometown. The teaser announcing the lecture mentions questions like "Where did your ancestors attend church?" and "How did they make a living?" Stretching beyond those customary confines, though, he delves into topics like "How did the population fluctuate over time, and why?"—a crucial question for a population such as Ireland's, where the millions who survived the Great Famine often did so by leaving their home.

Another speaker at Eneclann's "Summer Talks at Lunchtime" series believes "genealogists need to become more historically minded and historians need to pay more attention to genealogy." After reaffirming the value of my trip to Fort Meade, Florida, last week, I couldn't agree more. I hope to somehow—albeit by long distance—become supportive of what the local Historical Society is achieving in the city of Fort Meade. I am sure those board members I met last week are just as aware of the value to their organization of genealogical research like mine, as I am of their efforts to preserve the local history of my great grandparents' residence, one hundred years ago. We each have something that would be of benefit to each other.



  1. Place is so important. My husbands grandfather grew up in Canada I wonder what it looked like there...Ontario cannot be that far...can it?

    1. I've never been there, but I may find out soon enough, thanks to one research project or another.

  2. Ontario is beautiful in spots. There is still some wilderness there too -

    I went downtown to visit the spot my father's folks lived - they owned a city block complete with 2-3 homes, a couple store fronts - and ... was hugely disappointed. There is nothing at all there now - the block is paved over and is a parking lot.


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