Before you begin to write your family story, go back and look at the records you have amassed. Look, for instance, at the census records, especially focusing on those columns over to the right. We look at name, age, and birthplace, but we tend to ignore those questions that might tell us more about their daily lives. Can she read or write? How many weeks was he out of work? A hundred years ago a man’s job was to support his family. How did he feel about himself in 1920 when he’d been out of work six months in the last year? How did his wife feel about him?
The 1900 and 1910 censuses asked about how many children a woman had and how many were still alive. Compare these answers to the other people on the page and to your ancestors or siblings. Your great grandmother gave birth to nine children and only two survived. How did she feel six months before the census, when Mrs. Moriarty next door brought home a baby girl to be spoiled by seven older brothers? What is her relationship like with her sister-in-law with so many healthy children?
Take the time to compare your ancestor’s answers on the census to those of his neighbors. Consider the value of the assets he owns. Is he the only renter in the neighborhood? Is he the only recent immigrant in his neighborhood or is he one of dozens of immigrants? What is the ethnic background of most of the people in the locality? Imagine what dinner time might have smelled like in the Russian neighborhood your ancestor lived in.
Wring every single clues you can find on the census to help tell your ancestor's story.
Year: 1900; Census Place: Franklin, Somerset, New Jersey; Roll: 994; Page: 7A; Enumeration District: 0081; FHL microfilm: 1240994
Mary Kircher Roddy is a genealogist, writer and lecturer, always looking for the story. Her blog is a combination of the stories she has found and the tools she used to find them.