Immersion Genealogy: Walking in Your Ancestor’s Footsteps

Family history is so much more than charts, documents, names, and boxes of old photos. With access to online family research websites, it’s easy to limit your research to census records, yearbook photos and marriage certificates. But what you are missing is the context by which to interpret your research.

Historical context is the political, social, cultural, and economic settings, which help you better understand your relatives and their uniqueness. In plain language, historical context tells the stories that explain– who, how, when, what, and why.

Examples of Historical Context

  • Residences and communities where your relatives lived
  • Historical and political events that influenced their lives
  • Places where they worshiped
  • Their language and customs
  • Periods of military service and conflict
  • Types of jobs they held or businesses they owned
  • The medicines and medical care available
  • Family relationships
  • Immigration patterns
  • Personal property that they owned

Immersion Genealogy

Immersion genealogy is a way of raising consciousness and deepening your understanding of your family members, while helping to overcome assumptions and erroneous family lore.

Immersion genealogy has helped individuals understand situations that were not readily apparent in census documents, such as: why their great-great grandfather was an inmate in a sanitarium for years after the Civil War; why their once prosperous relatives abandoned their farm in Oklahoma in the 1920s; and why their Norwegian great grandparents left some of their children behind in Norway when they immigrated to America.

Others have discovered: national historic places linked to their relatives; segregated burial grounds, distinguished among immigrant and religious groups; and a World War II ammunition plant where their grandmother worked.

Immersion genealogy can be as simple as reading a book about local history or scanning archival newspaper articles of the community and period where your ancestors’ lived. You can visit a genealogy research library, local museum or national historic place. Others like to walk the hallowed grounds in which their ancestors are buried. Many people also enjoy taking a trip to their ancestral homelands.

Regardless of the path you take, immersion genealogy is all about walking in your relative’s shoes and then melding your new discoveries, family research, social and cultural experiences, and family stories.

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