Historical context and the effects on genealogy

Families were dramatically affected by their location, natural disaster, religious beliefs, war, peace and migration. Whether or not your well versed in history stepping outside hints provided by some Ancestry.com tree or random Census Poll, it will eventually become impossible not to step into historical context to understand why the family may have been impacted in one way or another.

Making an effort to understand where people were, especially surrounding the era of the Baby Scoop time period (1945-1973), can be important as this was a time the largest amount of the population was placed into adoption. This is the era I am most often encountering the need of adoptees as they seek out birth family, or their natural parents looking for them.

It is estimated that four million children were placed into adoption during this time period, and up to two million of those occurred in the 1960s alone. While the focal point of birth may become our goal there are many times where the genealogy or autosomal DNA test results may force us to go much further back than this time period because a third or fourth cousin may be our closest match.

Again, this requires us to expand our historical context in relation to any of the events described before. Simply focusing on the genealogy is not always going to clearly demonstrate the reason why it might be acceptable to find a family with fifteen or more children in it; nor will it explain their migration far south over the course of a decade. For instance how they might have been listed one location in one Census Poll and much further south on the next. Knowing it related to the Civil War (1861-1865) would certainly bring a better understanding why most of the older male children vanished from all documentation. With this perspective one might try and look through Muster Roll Calls within the region in conflicts nearby.

While one could try and count on digitized versions of records like those from the Civil War on Ancestry.com, you might have to step outside of that comfort zone and look at records elsewhere. Fold3 has Civil War records. So does the National Archives. Perspective on all the events going on around our families can not only give us clarity about their current events, but also how they lived and added understanding of their occupations and daily lives during these times. Documentation can certainly dry up and knowing what steps you might take to find other resources into the context can be very valuable and rewarding once our journey comes to its conclusion.

It may also add a deeper understanding why a mother to be may have been sent to a relative’s home in a nearby State instead of a maternity ward for young mothers. If we become familiar with our families pattern of migration of pockets where some family members seemed to stay in one State while another moved to another can be a valuable clue to focus on.

There have been times when I have reached a point where a birth mother was born in one State then over the course of her twenty or fewer years ended up giving birth to our adoptee several States away. Knowing that a pocket of ancestors may be in the State our adoptee was born can narrow the search to their last known location in that State, instead of just assuming the closest people living near the adoptees’ birth location must be the family that contains our birth mother or father.

Obviously the route described previously is based on an individual whose family lived in the United States for many generations. That luxury vanishes quickly if our adoptees family had migrated from abroad or if our adoptee was born in a foreign country. Being well versed in the location, culture, society, practices and ideology of another country can become an absolute necessity, as well as challenge, that requires outside resources to add clarity and context to our search.