Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Common People by Alison Light

If you need inspiration on how to write a good family history, I highly recommend Common People: In Pursuit of My Ancestors by Alison Light. It is exactly what a family history should be.

Light recounts the history of her family not just through anecdotes and data taken from census records but she recreates the world of the working poor in which her family lived. She researches workhouses, insane asylums, slums, and pauper’s graves. She describes the lives of bricklayers, Baptist preachers, domestic servants, and those in the navy. She reads local histories to understand how the geography of a place shaped her ancestors’ lives. Through Light’s research, she gains a better understanding of her ancestors and the worlds they inhabited.

I’ve always felt that while doing genealogy, you learn just as much about the history of society by the records your family leaves behind as you do about your ancestors--and sometimes, you may end up learning more about society than you do about your own family. Light demonstrates that genealogy is more than just names and dates but is really about bringing to light the lives of the “common people” and how politics, wars, religion and geography have affected the lives of everyday citizens.

This book also demonstrates why it's important to read local histories and to do your historical research while doing genealogy!

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