52 Ancestors Week 41: Context

+9 votes

Time for the next 52 Ancestors challenge!

Please 52 Ancestors and 52 Photos sharing challenge badgesshare with us a profile of an ancestor or relative who matches this week's theme:


From Amy Johnson Crow:

Our ancestors are more than names and dates on a chart. This week, share something that you've learned that brought more context to an ancestor's life. Have you learned why she moved from one area to another or why he held a certain occupation? Tell the story this week.

Share below!

Participants who share every week can earn badges. If this is your first time participating and you don't have the participation badge, or if you pass a milestone (13 in 13, 26 in 26, 52 in 52) let us know hereClick here for more about the challenge. 

in The Tree House by Eowyn Langholf G2G Astronaut (1.4m points)
Hello, I don't understand, last week I contributed to 52 Ancestors, week 41, Sports.  Were there two challenges last week??

Adding a biography is what adds the life and color to the profiles we add to our trees. The bare bones are the names and dates. It is the biography the tales and memories we add that provide a context to genealogy.

One side of my paternal family are based in Agriculture and horses William Langridge aka Langrish

My maternal side were busy raiding across the borders and seaman.  James Elgey He was a butcher and had his own meat business in Lelly. possible transference of traditional raiding skills?

36 Answers

+9 votes

I've been looking to fully substantiate the ancestry for my (double) 10th great-grandfather Nathaniel Browning for some time and have searched for him in England and North America (I've chronicled the information I've found on his page in an attempt to provide all the context I can about his life).  The next step in trying to trace him involves possible orphan's court records.

by K. Anonymous G2G6 Mach 7 (73.4k points)
+13 votes

My 4x great-grandfather Joseph James Whitney appears in a Merchant Seaman's register which handily gives his date of birth (not available on his 1809 baptism record) but also tells me that the first time he went to sea, he was thirteen years old. This was a great insight into a period of his life that wasn't covered by contemporary records.

by James Knighton G2G6 Mach 1 (13.3k points)
Fascinating, what an amazing discovery.
+14 votes

We've "always" known that my great-great-Grandfather, Thomas Crewe, came from "Oldham, Lancs", but I don't think we ever truly understood WHY. 

When Mum was still alive (before I married my second husband and moved away) we spent many an hour in the Queensland State Library, local libraries (hers and mine, as we lived in different areas and I had membership in three different libraries and those libraries had different microfiche and microfilm sets) .. and the Queensland State Archives.  It was at the latter of these that I finally found the passenger list that confirmed the arrival date of Thomas and his wife, Sarah Ann.  It was that same passenger list that gave the information that they had no children at that time, so great-grand-Aunt Bessie must have been born in Queensland. 


Context.  Some years ago I had great enjoyment in watching the archaeology show Time Team.  I got my husband hooked on it as well.  We spent many hours while he was having treatments watching the 20 years' worth of shows, including all the specials.  More than once.  That led, rather naturally, to other shows fronted by Tony Robinson, such as the "walking" series and the "Worst Jobs in History" series.


This episode of Worst Jobs (Georgian era) really gave context to my Lancashire family's work environment.  We didn't have any mule scavengers (that I have yet found, anyway), but we did have piecers, self-actor winders (or self-actor-minders), throstle piecers, reelers, and the like.  The last paragraph of this article is put to the lie by Tony's experience in the Georgian era episode.  The children were at risk, it was "continually straining", the children could not relax for even one second of their 12-hour work shift, lest they lose a foot, or fingers, or a whole hand.


Add to the above that the war in America (US Civil War) had a massive effect on the cotton mills in England, causing many to be jobless and in the workhouses, and it is much easier to understand why so many were so willing to leave home and travel on ships across the world to start new lives elsewhere.  

Context is everything. When you consider that the conditions on the ship on which my great-great-Grands' travelled were compared to the Black Hole of Calcutta, yet the passengers who survived expressed their thanks and gratitude to the ship's captain and crew for the voyage—it shows just how bad things were "back home" in Lancashire. 

(Rewatching the Georgian Worst Jobs episode also gave me a better understanding of just what my gr-gr-grands' sisters were doing from an early age (having discovered their occupations from census returns) .. and how small one of them must have been to still be doing piecing/throstle-piecing at the age of 18.  Was she small because that's how her genes made her, or because of bad nutrition / near starvation?  Questions that will never, now, have answers.)

by Melanie Paul G2G6 Pilot (223k points)
+9 votes

Context is very important; I love fleshing out profiles. Currently I'm working on adding more details to my 3rd Great Grandfather George MacCullough Grier. He and his wife Frances Elizabeth Tuthill Grier gave birth to a son Thomas Grier on May 12, 1834 but then Thomas died on May 31, 1836; then George and Frances gave birth to their son George Tuthill Grier on October 24, 1835 but then passed away April 20, 1838. Then they gave birth to their son Horace Sweezy Grier but unfortunately Horace passed away 8 months later on April 24, 1838. George and Frances lost 3 son's in a short period.

Also Frances Elizabeth Tuthill was the niece of Judge Dr. Samual Sweezy Seward and the cousin of  William Henry Seward. George MacCullough Grier and William Henry Seward were executer's of the estate of Samuel Sweezy Seward and letters written by these gentleman and other family members contain information on financial matters connected to the estate. The papers (525 letters in 31 folders, 12 folders of financial papers, 4 folders of legal papers, 1 folder of family history, 1 folder of circulars of the S.S. Seward Institute...) were bought by a University of Rochester Library, on February 22, 1956 from my Great Grandmother Adelaide DeKay Grier Van Vliet. Her sister, Mary Evans Grier, wrote some of the letters that are in the collection; while she was in Washington (1857-1858) and residing at the home of Senator William H. Seward. There are several letters from Seward to George MacCullough Grier and George's daughter Mary Elizabeth Grier 

by Keith Cook G2G6 Mach 1 (19.3k points)
edited by Keith Cook
+11 votes

This is a great question. I could give so many examples, but one favorite pops up. My father gifted a box of family information a few years ago that he had never had the chance to go through. Most of it had come from the widow of a cousin who had died childless. She recognized the significance of the information and that it should stay in the biological family, so she sent it to my father.  While sorting through the box I came across an ancient, cracked yellow letter -- what could it be?  It turned out to be a letter from my 3-greats grandfather, Hugh Hill (Hill-7693)  written from his home in Northern Ireland to his brother, George Hill, who had long before immigrated to Armstrong County, Pennsylvania.  The letter was craving his brother's support for his daughter, Jean Hill.  The letter revealed the existence of this long-lost brother and ultimately enabled me to trace the full family. I had never before realized that she spent her first year in America in Pennsylvania at the home of this generous uncle.  It gave me the name of the ship she sailed on, when she sailed, and that she sailed alone, pioneering the way for the rest of the family. It also explained the reason for their sailing (the Irish Potato Famine). Aside from that, it gave me a sense of the faith and character of the family.  Here is a snippet:

"She sails this a [week?? -- tear in paper] that I write unto you July the 10th and we pray that He that holds the winds in His fist and says to the Proud waves Be thou still shall conduct her safe through the mighty waters to Her desired Haven. We supplicate your interest in our Lyen down and in our rising up at a thrown [word uncertain] of grace and I make mention of you all when I walk alone and we are all thankful for the glad tidings [that? -- tear in paper, word uncertain] a long Lost Brother is still alive  I have not much more to say time is very Bad the Disease has appeared on the potatoes at this early season of the year so that we may Learn the demand [word uncertain] will continue for all you can spare .  .  . "

by Allen McGrew G2G4 (4.7k points)
+8 votes

I too answered last years Sports topic! Sheesh. So here we go on "Context"

Growing up in Sacramento Ca, I always loved the story that my great grandfather, Thomas Johnston was born in Sutter's Fort in 1855. When each of my children got to 4th grade they shared that their GGGrandfather was born in Sutter’s Fort! My old FGS from the 70s have him born there. I always dreamed of finding some reference to this, other than family lore. Life happened, and 40 years passed and I again had time for geneology. On Ancestry I find that people have 2 more of his brothers also born at the fort! Research has shown that this is highly unlikely. Fort history says the fort was largely abandoned by 1850. By 1855 Sacramento was booming. I found the below drawing of the fort made in 1855. So, not likely that they would choose to have Margaret give birth there in 1853,1855, and 1858!  12

by Lyn Sara Gulbransen G2G6 (9.1k points)
edited by Lyn Sara Gulbransen
Was there also a settlement near the fort called Sutters Fort?  If the actual Fort fell, the settlement or town may have remained for some time.  Maye they where born there?
+13 votes

Oftentimes I find it is difficult to get beyond the bare bones of the existence of past generations - just BMD sources and if you are lucky, records for the family unit in a census linking in the next generation.

One distant cousin of mine who really came to life with a source that gave a lot of context was John Henry, my first cousin three times removed. Like many of my relatives, John was born into a farming family in Ireland and then emigrated, this time to New Zealand, where he married in 1875 and he and his wife had a single son.

So far, so standard with the normal sources.  I have a wonderful source for him which provides a much richer biography.  As well as detailing his employment and business interests and the various local committees on which he served, this potted biography has the following paragraph:

"In his time Mr Henry has done much for the mental culture of the community. Very early in the seventies, the Provinical Government of Canterbury passed a Libraries Ordinance under which it offered to contribute pound for pound of local subscriptions to enable settlers in country districts to start local libraries. Dunsandel at that time, 1872-1873 was the beginning of a township and residents decided to take advantage of the Government offer. To that end a committee was set up and Mr Henry was a member and for a long time, Chairman and treasurer.  The committee succeeded in raising sufficient money to build a neat little Hall which has since been several times enlarged and it has proved a most useful building for the district."

I was also thrilled - and a little amused - to read that after his wonderful public-spirited contribution the town presented him with an inscribed marble clock and a silver tea set for his wife!

by Linda Hawkes G2G6 Mach 2 (23.1k points)
edited by Linda Hawkes
+9 votes
52 Ancestors, 52 Surnames

Context is of such important that I refrain from touching the profile of my ancestor Richard Tydings https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Tydings-4 It appears that those better versed in 17th century English records are still scratching their heads over this one.  I think I am descended from Richard's first wife through his daughter Pretiotia. The fact that the spelling is uncertain is just one of the challenges.
by Margaret Summitt G2G6 Mach 5 (55.7k points)
+9 votes
I had always been a history buff ... I got interested in the family history about 8 years ago ... since then I have found that I have at least 17 ancestors who fought in the Revolutionary War ... I have submitted and approved three of them so far to the SAR ... John Vertrees ... William Humphrey ... Augustine Sims.

I will most likely submit more as time permits ... I have enough sources to satisfy me ... but gathering the proof that SAR requires takes some time.

Then I found that one of the famous battles of the Civil War was  fought on my ancestors land ... the Battle of Antetium ... Their farm was destroyed ... but the Mumma family Cemetery is still on the land  It is a fenced in area within the Antetium National Park.

Still looking for more historical stuff ... it is a never ending search??
by Bill Sims G2G6 Mach 3 (33.3k points)
+9 votes

Florence Chidlow told me that she came from a large family and that her father was a postmaster in Wiarton. But she was old, and had enough of the conversation, so no more information was forthcoming. Adding that to the little information I already had, I set out to research her family. My focus then was on census records, so I found that she was one of five children, daughter of David and Cathrine Dinsmore. I had not though as five being such a large family in her day, but kept going back in time. Each census I found revealed more. A previous marriage, a larger family, previous career for David, an earlier home town, and immigration dates, and just from looking at census records. Then I told her what I found. That set the old lady's memory in gear, and one by one stories came out about different siblings and their families. I went back to the census and found her siblings and their families. Some of those reports produced more stories. Eventually I did move on to many more branches of her family and found other kinds of data. Now I've much more of a picture and have learned that context and memory are closely connected. And who wants just one census record if more can be had?

by Judith Chidlow G2G6 Mach 3 (32.5k points)
+11 votes
52 Ancestors Week 41: Context

During the recent Source-A-Thon, I came across a profile which I immediately sourced (Claude). I also noticed that there was information at newspapers.com that could be about my person. The article was a father (Wes) and two sons (Claude) and (Rufus) who were charged with killing Blake Lillard and had to pay a bond. This matched all three men on my profile, the location and time period, so I attached the source.

I had a couple of good sources, should I go on - Yes, could I - no. I searched the paper and found an article about the trial for Claude. On March 7, Wes (the dad) who was also the city Marshall, along with his two sons, and Officer Ebb Reynolds became involved in a difficulty with Blake Lillard and John Recter, in which Blake Lillard was killed by having his throat cut by Claude.

I added this article to the profile for more context, and then went on with the Source-A-Thon.

I will be returning to Claude's profile to find the rest of the story.
by Cheryl Hess G2G6 Pilot (919k points)
+6 votes
With a number of Mayflower pilgrims and their descendents  I was curious why I could not find ancestors who fought on the Revolution.  Interesting to learn that before the war began Gov. Lawrence offered land grants in Nova Scotia to settle/resettle areas.  Many saw that as an opportunity and emigrated  to Annapolis, Kings and Queens counties, Nova Scotia!
ago by Marsha Craig G2G6 (7.5k points)
+5 votes
Historical context can be important when looking at documents as well.   My 4x great grandmother Lucy Higgins (Higgins-5449)  along with several of her siblings were bound out by the court as orphans.  Out of historical context it we would assume that means her parents are both deceased.   In historical context she was the child of an unwed mother who could not afford to care for her.   Children with a deceased father were also commonly listed as orphans in some of my areas of research when their father had died even if the mother was alive and caring for the children.   So it's important we as researches understand how terms were used historically.
ago by Brandi Morgan G2G6 Mach 1 (14.3k points)

Historically (going back to Bible times when the people are enjoined to care for the "widows and orphans") an orphan is one who has lost a parent.  A double-orphan is one who has lost both parents.  (My mother was a double orphan by age 9.  It was the term used to describe her situation.) 

I'm not sure when common parlance started using orphan to mean one who has lost both parents, but in modern terminology it is so.

However, there is also a modern designation of double orphan, maternal orphan, and paternal orphan (with a note regards "half orphan").

In the common use, an orphan does not have any surviving parent to care for them. However, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS), and other groups label any child who has lost one parent as an orphan. In this approach, a maternal orphan is a child whose mother has died, a paternal orphan is a child whose father has died, and a double orphan is a child who has lost both parents.[6] This contrasts with the older use of half-orphan to describe children who had lost only one parent.[7]



As you have noted, when doing research it pays to know these things as they can help explain why a child with a living parent may be placed in an orphanage.  (Irish Famine Orphan Girls are another area where the term may not be as we think it, as some of those girls had both parents living.)

+2 votes
James Lister, my uncle by marriage, was my favorite uncle. He was quiet,,, unassuming, and a bit shy. The family story was that his parents were killed in a plane crash when he was very young.  His grandmother, who I had met, raised him and had him in boarding schools and summer camps from the age of six.

Researching his life, I discovered that his parents had not been killed in a plane crash. His mother died when he was about one.His father took his two older sisters and moved to Maine, leaving my uncle behind. His father soon remarried and

had more children. Must have been sad growing up years for my uncle..
ago by
+2 votes

My great grandfather, Michael Huber, immigrated from Volga, Russia.  He descended from a long line of German farmers who were brought to Russia to perform dry farming (basically, making things grow where most people could not make things grow).  This is a great talent, and prevented people from starvation in rough landscapes.  Is was this farming background that led him to immigrate to Fresno, California, and become an orchard farmer.

NOTE: I know I've talked about Michael in several of these posts, but he happens to be more connected to the questions being asked than any other of my ancestors (that I'm aware of).  Ironically, just over a year ago, I wouldn't have made any of these connections, as I only recently learned about his life through my research.

ago by William Catambay G2G6 Mach 1 (16k points)
+2 votes

In order to put Ralph Knight Perry my great-grandfather's brother in context it greatly helped to know what was going on in the Vernon Township/Durand, Shiawassee County, Michigan area at the turn of the 19th Century.  Ralph's 1914 death certificate gives his occupation as "retired railroad gate tender".  Gate tenders manually raised and lowered the gates at road crossings and where two railroads met among other tasks. What is unusual is that usually the gate tender jobs were given to railroad employees who had on-the-job injuries - think missing arms, legs and such.  

Although Ralph died at the Masonic Home at Alma, Michigan, he had lived most of his life around Durand which was a major railroad hub at this time.  But there are no records showing he worked for a railroad.  His background was as a farmer and business man.  In fact, the 1900 Census lists his occupation as a coal and wood dealer and in 1910 he is a timber estimator.  I've also found references to him in the local newspapers as traveling to the West (Montana, the Dakotas area) to buy sheep by the thousands.

So how did Ralph end up with what was considered an "easy" (and probably fairly well paying) railroad job in his old age?  I asked my retired railroad engineer husband about this just now and he described it as a "cream" job. Turns out his daughter Mary married Leonard Haughton who was a railroad man.  In 1900 Leonard was a railroad agent at Dundee, Monroe, Michigan and in 1910 a railroad dispatcher at Detroit.  It is likely Leonard had enough "pull" to get his aging father-in-law such a good job.

ago by Jill Perry G2G6 Mach 3 (33.1k points)

Related questions

+7 votes
18 answers
188 views asked Oct 8, 2018 in The Tree House by Robynne Lozier G2G6 Pilot (635k points)
+11 votes
29 answers
319 views asked 3 days ago in The Tree House by Eowyn Langholf G2G Astronaut (1.4m points)
+15 votes
45 answers
974 views asked Sep 23 in The Tree House by Eowyn Langholf G2G Astronaut (1.4m points)
+13 votes
45 answers
1.3k views asked Sep 16 in The Tree House by Eowyn Langholf G2G Astronaut (1.4m points)
+13 votes
49 answers
1.2k views asked Sep 9 in The Tree House by Eowyn Langholf G2G Astronaut (1.4m points)
+13 votes
48 answers
747 views asked Sep 2 in The Tree House by Eowyn Langholf G2G Astronaut (1.4m points)
+14 votes
43 answers
740 views asked Aug 26 in The Tree House by Eowyn Langholf G2G Astronaut (1.4m points)
+15 votes
68 answers
1.3k views asked Aug 19 in The Tree House by Eowyn Langholf G2G Astronaut (1.4m points)
+12 votes
40 answers
812 views asked Aug 12 in The Tree House by Eowyn Langholf G2G Astronaut (1.4m points)
+11 votes
48 answers
937 views asked Aug 5 in The Tree House by Eowyn Langholf G2G Astronaut (1.4m points)

WikiTree  ~  About  ~  Help Help  ~  Search Person Search  ~  Surname:

disclaimer - terms - copyright