Once you have developed a small family tree with ancestors going back for several generations, it is time to take another look at the details you have unearthed so far. There are many clues, many interpretations, many guides to your learning about your family by evaluating those ancestor details. Here are a few fascinating ideas of how you could study your family tree for your own improved understanding of your family values, temperaments, talents, lifestyles, and more.
Your family tree could include some interesting details aside from the usual birth, marriage, occupation, death. It might also include individuals’ temperaments for example: shy, dramatic, people-oriented, enthusiastic, detail-oriented, organized, quick-tempered, independent, relaxed/laid-back, resists change, moody, ideas-oriented, and so on. Each individual would be described with 3-4 one-word descriptions of their personality or their way of relating to others.
In addition, members of the family tree could also have 1-2 ‘negative’ descriptors attached: those qualities which make them a challenge to be around, such as argumentative, manipulative, impulsive. Plus,add 1-2 ‘positive’ descriptors attached, their strengths and talents which make them a delight to be around, such as charming, sociable, great listener. Note there is nothing right or wrong about these descriptors, they are just your best guess at putting a label on their strengths and challenges. Try to do the same about yourself as seen through someone’s eyes (a friend).
If you wish, you could add these several kinds of descriptors to the individuals in your tree. They are not necessarily “the truth” about each individual – but they are your shorthand for the kind of person they are: temperament, strengths and talents, and challenges. These are FOR YOUR EYES ONLY, as they are very subjective observations of yours! Do you see any patterns? If not, don’t worry about it, as this is simply an interesting personal way to look at family lines.
For example, in my family, there are a number of individuals who are dramatic, emotional, creative artistic types, plus a few who are rather shy and withdrawn observers. And these characteristics seem to hold true in one line of the family – the almost extremes of one or the other, with no middle-ground types! Interesting. Makes for some challenging parenting when a dramatic emotional political father has a very shy withdrawn detail-oriented son. They are certainly not on the same wavelength, are they? No wonder parenting can be so fraught with pitfalls!
Look for patterns in the family. Did the women marry very young? If so, was there a war on, or other events which would make it more likely to happen, or less likely? What about occupations – did an occupation show up in several generations in a row? Or did a variant of one occupation show up in later generations? What did men do, and what did women do? Small families or large families? Children who died very young? Ancestors who died before 60? Particular diseases show up in some family lines? Were there any obvious patterns of lifestyle described in your family trees, as shown by residence, education, local newspaper social columns, etc.?
Look at birth order also, and see if there are any patterns there. There may not be, but I noticed a number of instances of an oldest in a family marrying a youngest in a family, in my ancestors trees. Again, you are simply looking for whatever patterns there may be, and then looking up information on those patterns for more understanding and insight into your family lines.
Even on gravestones, you may get clues about an ancestor which could tell you more about either the ancestor or the family. For example, in one family line on the east coast of the USA, the ancestors up to early 1900s were all (all!) buried in one cemetery, and their details all carved on a huge obelisk with surname on top. An amazing sight to see, with several generations of families buried in the one place. And another ancestor on the other coast of the USA – his monument dominates the entire large cemetery where he is buried, telling us something about his influence and social standing in the city where he lived his adult life. In both these cases, the information gave me clues for further research about the families and about the individuals listed.
If you could put a brief phrase (3-5 words) to identify one family line, what would that be? Does one family line tend to have many individuals who are great organizers and detail people “Details Are Everything!”, while another tends to have a number of musical artistic people “The Muse Is Present”? Perhaps one line has hard-working religious individuals: “Pillars of Community”; while another tends to value reading and education in philosophy: “Think-Read-Analyze!” For example, one family line I’ve dubbed “Let The Play Begin” for their love of theatre and music. While another line is “Heads Down-Bum Up: Work!” for their incredible work ethic. A third line is “Politics Power” for their general love of political writings, newspaper publishing, and connections to political individuals. Again, this is not necessarily the truth about the family, just a quick descriptor for me to understand their lives.
Are you having fun yet? The best reason to do any of these additional personal details for your ancestors is to try to see them as people, as individuals with loves and hopes and fears and talents, going through life the best they could, at the times they were living. And if you see nothing like these examples, don’t worry about it; this is simply an idea for you to use IF and only if it is useful for you in searching to understand your ancestors’ lives. Happy searching!