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How Our Ancestors Were Affected by Social History

Doing your family history is not just names, dates and places, it is also the life, times and events that made up their everyday existence. Many such occurrences might have had a dramatic affect on the course of their life and their descendants – you in fact.

Social, environmental and personal history includes everything happening to your ancestral family whether it was in their home, such as a fire to the house; in the hometown, such as a bank failure or a new business opening up; to a tornado coming through destroying most of a town. It can be some very positive items like the arrival of the railroad system with a train station allowing for greater transportation options and merchandise to come to town. There would be when the family got their first telephone, allowing for easier communication. The first child in the family to graduate from high school was a grand moment for many families.

Whenever there were major epidemics sweeping a region, for sure some one in a family or neighborhood would be directly affected, maybe even died from the disease. Some of the major infectious diseases that killed Americans were cholera, diphtheria, influenza, smallpox, typhoid, and yellow fever. In most recent times it was polio in the late 1920s and into the early 1950s, until a vaccine was developed, that either handicapped or killed many people, especially young adults.

There were times of movement of people, those traveling by covered wagons to new frontiers, those going to the gold fields of California and later Alaska, the rush of land speculators in Florida during the first half of the 20th century, to those claiming land in Oklahoma during the land rush or those who moved to California during the 1930s Dust Bowl.

Each event, weather occurrence, community happening, business development, invention, or epidemic has affected one or more of our ancestors. Certainly those who went off to fight in the nation’s wars; Civil War, World War I, Spanish-American or Vietnam either lost their life, were serious wounded or mentally changed forever.

So when putting together the family history, put some time into learning more about the social history that ancestor lived through. This example could have affected your grandparents or great grandparents. The Spanish Flu of 1918 in the United States affected directly about 28% of the population. That is a high percentage. The influenza was so strong that a person could died within hours after being infected by this air-born disease. Even if a person never became infected, there were real social changes, known as flu ordinances. People were encouraged to wear face masks in public, stores limited the number of people in at a time, funeral were very short, very few obituaries appeared in newspapers because so many were dying, there was a shortage of doctors, many schools had to close and quarantines existed everywhere, neighborhoods, ports, towns and railroad lines. About 550,000 Americans died from the Spanish Flu.

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