Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Thursday, October 9, 2014

So you say your ancestors arrived in America in the 1600s?

Non-Native-American-Nations-Territorial-Claims-over-NAFTA-countries-1750-2008Public Domain
Tracing you ancestors back into the 1600s can be a tricky and sometimes difficult research project. Those of us who live the United States portion of the North American Continent often forget that the exploration of both North and Central America began in the 1400s, not just when the Pilgrims arrived in 1620 in the area now know as Massachusetts. When I was in grade school, many years ago, we used to learn about all the voyages of exploration to the "New World." That was before the emphasis shifted from exploration to European imperialism and exploitation. Most references to American exploration made only passing reference to the pre-existing native population and almost all U.S. textbooks talked about the settlement of the U.S. as beginning with the Mayflower and the even earlier settlement at Jamestown in 1607.

Since I majored in Spanish as an undergraduate at the University of Utah and received a B.A. in Spanish, I got a somewhat different view of North American history than I had received in grade school and high school. My periodic inquiries into the curriculum of my grandchildren, clearly indicates to me that very few students in the United States now graduate with more than a brief glimpse into the history of the United States much less the entire North American Continent. What they do learn is usually more editorial and propaganda than actual history. Most modern graduates in the U.S. from high school know more about the civil rights movement than they do about the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and World War I and II combined much less the exploration of North America. For some idea of what is going on see the following:
This is not new news. When I was in high school, none of my history classes got any further along than the U.S. Civil War. The year had usually ended before we got any chapters on either World War I or II. 

If you have to ask what this has to do with genealogy, then you need to go read a history book. Most genealogists of my era and many more who are younger, have a great deal of difficulty putting their genealogical research into the context of local, state and national history. I run into this problem all the time. For example, when should you research military records? The answer to this question depends on your understanding of the history of the time and place your ancestors lived. There are an unending series of such questions that can only be answered by having a more-than-passing interest in the history of the times and places where your ancestors lived.

Now, to the question raised in the title to this post. When you do research back into a time period you do not understand, you are not likely to search the appropriate records. It is also very likely that a general history class in high school or even a college level course, would have given you the amount of detailed history knowledge you need to do a proper job of research. 

1 comment:

  1. Very good points, James.

    When looking at an article or contemplating attending a lecture on How To Trace Your Immigrant Ancestors, one usually discovers that (regardless how well-known the author/presenter is) those entitled without specific date-ranges usually commence no earlier than the Irish Potato Famine, and open with urging the reader/attendee to check their ancestral-homes' attics for newspaper clippings and letters.

    This is quite a disappointment for those whose immigrant ancestry extends back 200 or 300 more years. It is rather a huge blind spot for the authors/presenters.

    My 17th-century immigrant ancestors clean forgot to write those letters (even if they could write) and my grandparents of course did not "save" them. Ditto for those along with the much earlier expeditions.

    And don't forget the early trading settlements, such as by Russians along the NW coast.