Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Genealogist as a Historian

I went through school when the “Great Events, Great Men” theory of history was central to the curriculum. By the time I entered Graduate School the fight was on between those who viewed the  “Social” trends as the most important aspect vs. the old guard.

Regardless of what assumptions on history are the flavour of the year I believe that a good genealogist has a working knowledge of the history of their country and region. To quote James Tanner in his blog “Genealogy”s Star”

“I find that the missing link in most, in fact almost all, genealogical research is a total lack of awareness of relationships and context“.

A simple lineage line like the one I have done below can help. I have listed my male lineage next to some of the important historical events for Ontario.

1800                                               George Hillman

War of 1812
                                                         John Hillman

                                                        John David Hillman
Fenian Raids
Confederation 1867
                                                       William Wallace Hillman
Northwest Rebellion 1885
Boer War 1899-1902

Great War 1914-1918
                                                        John Arnold Hillman
Great Depression

World War 2
                                                       William Bruce Hillman

Korean War

How can this help? For one thing it can help you understand your ancestors. George and John Hillman were Englishmen who settled in Ontario. Why Ontario? One thing that the War of 1812 decided was that the English Colonies in North American remained British. One will never know but it might explain why I am not Australian. John David Hillman was a Canadian of English descent. Two it can point you to where your research might be successful. For example, William Wallace Hillman lived at a time where the Northwest Rebellion highlighted events in Western Canada. Members of Ontario’s militia went out west. Some stayed. Some came home and then returned. Looking for missing ancestors during this period? Go west young man. John Arnold Hillman (my father) was raised listening to stories of trench warfare. So in 1940 he joined the Air Force.

I can go on but hopefully I have made a point.

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