If all you have about an ancestor are his vital statistics, his name, birth, marriage, and death, you only have a skeleton and skeletons are not much fun to look at. In fact, they’re kind of scary. If you only have the bare bones about your ancestor, that’s kind of scary, too, because how do you know who that skeleton really is with so few details connecting him.
Wouldn’t you rather look at your ancestor and see the events and trials that gave color to his life and flesh to his bones, things that made him more than just a date and place? Of course you would.
So how do you get that flesh on his bones? It’s something you’re going to have to do. The more details you discover about your ancestor, the more you’ll be able to do this. You will need to check for court records, church records, town records, town histories, etc.
In addition to searching for the details of his life, you may want to:
1. Look for compiled histories. Others may have already done it, and that’s great if they did it right. You should look for those things others have written or found on him and check their sources.
2. Study the time and place to gain insight into his life. Writer’s Digest books that will help include (You may access these on the “I Recommend” List on my sidebar):
- The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in Colonial America from 1607-1783, by Dale Taylor.
- The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in the 1800s, by Marc McCutcheon.
- Everyday Life Among the American Indians, by Candy Vyvey Moulton.
- The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in the Wild West from 1840 to 1900, by Candy Vyvey Moulton.
- Everyday Life During the Civil War, by Michael J.Varhola.
- The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life from Prohibition through World War II, by Marc McCutcheon.
3. Read what others have written about the same experiences your ancestor had, such as crossing the ocean, crossing the plains, or even moving from New England to New York. Look for journals, reports, diaries, etc.
Finally, Katherine Scott Sturdevant has written an excellent book, Bringing Your Family History to Life Through Social History.
When you have the details of your ancestor’s life and you understand the time and place in which he lived, it will be easy to put flesh on his bones and you’ll have recreated a good portrait of who he was.