Adding Historical Events to Your Ancestors’ Lives

Genealogists seem to fall into two types of researchers, the hunter and the gatherer.   The hunter seems to be content to just find ancestors to build their tree, whereas the gatherer not only finds ancestors to add to their tree, but also wants to add historical information to each ancestor to flesh out their lives and make them “come alive” virtually.

 Over multiple census returns and other documentation, you now know that your ancestor’s occupation may have been  an agricultural labourer, a sea captain, or  a myriad of other occupations.  But what does that really tell you about your ancestor?

Your ancestor’s life sketch or biography instantly becomes more fascinating when you add a little historical context to the mundane facts for their existence.  Adding historical events adds multiple senses to your ancestor’s lives just by naming what happened at the time, who the leaders were, and what technology was spreading throughout the land.  These factors add drama and interest to your ancestors.   Don’t forget to also add local, national and global context.

Many of us cannot describe the landscape, sounds, and seasons pertaining to our ancestors. We can’t visualize what they saw, heard, smelled, or tasted. We certainly can’t imagine what worried them or excited the local town chatterboxes. But if you add the historic events from the time and place they lived in, either through adding it as an event or a story in your family history software, or taking the big step of actually writing your family history, your stories magically transform into not just a recitation of facts, but the story of a person’s life during the time period in which they lived.  Historical context, such as weather, local and world events, pop culture references, and economic averages add flavor to an otherwise bland retelling of the genealogical details.

Where do you find the details of the times in which your ancestors lived?   One source is newspaper archives.   There are several newspaper archive sites available, far too many to mention but if you Google “archived newspaper sites”, there are many sites you may want to check out.  Usually these sites are ranked by popularity, the most popular being at the top of the list.

Another way is to search for historical events during the time period of your ancestor or ancestors’ lives.   Again, the easiest way to find historical events is to use your good friend Google – enter the search term “historical events” and you may be overwhelmed by the choices.   One interesting site I found is  Then take it one step further and Google historical events for the area you are interested in – city, country or time period.

Beginning locally with my more recent ancestors, A quick Google search for British Columbia events provided several links.  One site,, provided links to the major events in British Columbia history.

Adding history to your ancestors’  bare-bones genealogical data may enable you to virtually “walk in their shoes”.   Good luck with your research.