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

Friday, February 25, 2011

A sense of history

In researching a friend's ancestor today, I realized that the ancestor may have fought (or at least served) in the War of 1812. That reminded me of when I was in high school (yes, they did have high schools that long ago), We all had to take history classes. But in the World History class, we never seemed to get much further along during the year, than the Roman Empire. In American History, it seemed like the year ended in the U.S. Civil War. I think our books might have had a page or two about some of the other wars and maybe I missed the classes on the days they talked about 20th Century U.S. history. I understand that now the students are lucky to get one history class out of four years of school. However, this post is not all just hand-wringing over the lack of history education in the schools, it is really about what the lack of history education has done to genealogy.

Some of the more developed lineage linked database programs available today, have he ability to generate a timeline, putting every person into the context of world and local events. But even if the programs will generate such a useful tool, there is nothing that motivates people to use the feature and what is probably more the case, the users have no idea of the significance of all those dates anyway. Here is a little test to see what you know about U.S. history. Those of you who are reading this in different parts of the world will just have to be patient. I am sure that knowledge about English, Scottish, Australian or New Zealand history is just a dismally lacking. The following is a list of fourteen wars that settlers to North America could have participated in. They are not in order. Try not to peek, at the end of the post, I have put them in the right chronological order. Some of these wars were also part of larger conflicts that involved European countries.

The French and Indian War
Queen Anne's War
World War II
King George's War
American Revolutionary War
Dunmore's War
Mexican War of Independence
Northwest Indian War
Whiskey Rebellion
The American Civil War
War of 1812
Black Hawk War
World War I
The Spanish American War

Now, here is the harder question, who fought each war and why? The point of this is simple: GENEALOGY IS HISTORY AND ALL HISTORY IS GENEALOGY. Not knowing that the history exists is the main problem, not just not knowing when the wars were fought. Computers were invented so I didn't have to memorize wars and dates. But all the computers in the world are not going to help me do my family history if I ignore the history part. I can always get by with one or two generations, especially if they all lived in the 20th Century, but what about the past.

What is an even more disturbing issue is that very few young people have been given the chance to learn and to love history. If they are going to do "their genealogy" because they have a good background in video games and cell phones, how does that help them know history.

OK so this is a rant. Sorry.

Now here's the list with dates. If you want to check out a more complete list of wars, go to List of Conflicts in North America.
1702-1713 Queen Anne's War
1744-1748 King George's War
1754-1763 The French and Indian War
1774 Dunmore's War
1775-1783 American Revolutionary War
1785 - 1795 Northwest Indian War

1794 Whiskey Rebellion
1810-1821 Mexican War of Independence
1812-1814 War of 1812
1832 Black Hawk War

1861-1865 The American Civil War
1898 The Spanish American War
1914-1918 World War I
1939-1945 World War II


  1. Excellent point! We live in a world of events, and our ancestors did, too. Where we see news of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, they saw news of the British invading during the War of 1812, or the sinking of the battleship Maine in Havana, Cuba starting the Spanish-American War. We get our news faster, of course, but people then had the same concerns over mounting tensions that frequently lead up to armed conflict. As well, economic issues were present then as now. Our current economic problems are supposedly less than those of the Great Depression beginning in late 1929, but it was hardly the first economic crash in our nation's history. You worry about your job and income, so did your ancestors! Family history has TWO important words. Family, of course, and how we're all connected, but also HISTORY. Where did our ancestors fit in the grand scheme of things? What specific conflicts or events did they discuss over dinner?

  2. James, your post is on-target. It is sad to see queries about the US Civil War on Revolutionary-War topic message boards, or a post concerning covered-wagon trains regarding settlement of Delaware.

    One can only laugh at a certain commercial database site's commercial about finding ancestors "all the way back to before the Civil War," or supposedly educational items concerning US immigrants that omit mention of the 200-odd years prior to the 1840s. This site offers informational papers and webinars that promote what databases it has rather than an overall historical perspective.

    One cannot expect that genealogical sites will make up for poor US basic education. Some bloggers and website creators have well integrated historical perspectives with tips for genealogical research, but the new researcher would not find them easily.

    One nice thing would be if the FamilySearch research wiki had good timelines for geographic areas with direct links to tips for research on particular periods within those areas. And it would be wonderful if that wiki were much easier to find.