I remember one time when I first begun researching my family tree, I showed my sister Janis a pedigree chart of our ancestors. I was very proud that I had been able to go back a number of generations, going back a couple hundred of years.
Janis looked at that pedigree chart, and asked me, "Yeah, but who ARE these people?"
I was puzzled. After all, there was plenty of information about these families I have their names, and the dates and places of their births, marraiges and deaths. What else did I need?
Janis wanted to know their stories.
Over the years, I've realized the difference between compiling a pedigree chart and writing a family history. One is relatively easy. After a short while, one is able to compile names, dates and places. Oh, sure, there are always brick walls - those ancestors that are impossible to find, but any genalogist worth anything can find at least a few generations. But finding information, and more importantly, telling a story is much different. It's the like the difference between walking to the store and taking a trip across the country.
Some years ago I became a family historian. I began writing stories about my family. More recently, I've begun writting local history. The jump from family history to local history is not much. If you are writing family history, you should be looking at local history. How did your family fit within this history? Were members of your family part of something important in your home town? Were they original settlers of a specific area? How did they get to that area? Did they travel on the El Camino Real, or the Oregon Trail, or the Mormon Trail?
For example, my 2nd great-grandfather Samuel Zimmerly was a member of the California Column, regiments of soldiers that came to New Mexico and Arizona in response to a Confederate invasion of New Mexico. In order to understand, who he was, I had to research not only the California Column and the Civil War, but also how these affected my home town and my ancestor.
Another example is the Socorro Grant. I've written a little bit about this grant. Many of my ancestors were the original grantees of this grant. But the story is not just simply saying that such and such ancestor was part of the grant. Rather, its more answering questions about what this grant meant in their lives. What property did they own? How did they pass along this property to their children and grandchildren? Were they able to pass along the property? What did they do to protect their property, their livelihoods, their lives? As I'm finding out, this grant, as with many other Spanish and Mexican grants in New Mexico, is extremely complicated and controversial. Controversy, of course, makes great history.
I began thinking about this topic after reading a blog post on DearMYRTLE's Genealogy Blog. She asks the question: "21st Century Genealogists: are we becoming better historians?" She believes that geenalogy is becoming more family history, with an emphasis on "history".
Click on this link to read her post.