The further back we go when researching ancestors, inevitably, the less information we find. For many ancestors, the only information we have about them is dates of birth and death and the place/location references where such events took place. However, don’t feel like you’ll never get a glimpse of your ancestors thoughts and feelings.

There is much we can understand about what our ancestors may have felt and situations they may have been involved in if we research the history of the time. Oh boy, sounds like loads of work, but actually it’s very easy and fun. You really only need to go to one place, and citing your references couldn’t be easier if you’re going to type a short (or long) history about one of your ancestors.

  1. Get the dates. Obtain the dates and place names related to the ancestor you are researching. These may be birth, death, marriage, or any other dates you may have.
  2. Look up interesting events. Now it’s time to research, but it’s going to be much easier than you think. Take the year for the date you have, for example, a marriage date (let’s say January 10, 1850 in Illinois, USA) and go to and type the year 1850 into the search text box. You should now see information on significant events that occurred in the year 1850. Take these events, and write about what you think your ancestor may have thought about certain events. Do this for each year, or select the decade option to view events over a period of time. Looking at the events will provide you with insight into the time of your ancestor’s life.
  3. Write about the events. Don’t write things like “he felt sad to learn…” as you look at the events because you don’t know for sure, but you can raise questions, provide insight, and make suggestions. For example you could write something like, “How did <ancestor name> feel when he heard the news that the President of his country had died and Vice President Millard Fillmore had taken over as president?1 It’s possible that <ancestor name> was interested in politics and what the new president’s position would be on issues such as slavery, but he may have been more concerned about local issues living so far away from the hub of politics.” Now that’s just a quick little example, but you get the idea. Notice the little “1” reference marker. I like to place footnotes at the bottom of the page to cite the reference, and with Wikipedia, it couldn’t be easier. When you use a page to get information, click the “Cite this Article” link on the Wikipedia article and the website provides references in your standard styles already created for you. Just copy and paste the citation into your footnote.
  4. Finish your story. It’s absolutely fascinating to go through the period of an ancestor’s life, one that you knew nothing about except dates and places, and find so many interesting events that occurred during his or her lifetime. Compile your story and facts you’ve collected by year or decade, and make sure to include your citations for the references you used. Last but not least, add your name as author of the document and date when you compiled it.


1. 1850. (2007, October 1). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 05:04, October 2, 2007, from