A family’s ancestral home can be a rural village, a small town, a medium-sized city or a large metropolis. Learning about the particular location; its people, occupations, traditions and history can give a researcher enormous insight into their own family.
Traditionally individuals and their descendants remained in a given region for decades and never ventured far of it. Over the last two hundred years, with more people emigrating within a country or outside to new lands, there can be a mixture of established fatherlands and new homelands within a family tree.
If at all possible, it is a wonderful experience for a researcher to visit the hometowns of their parents, grandparents, etc. It bestows a real sense of the type of lives your ancestors lived, a chance to step back in time, to walk where they walked. Visit the locations such as a general store, a theater, a church, a school, a river, a park, etc., that held special meaning to your ancestors.
Visiting family hometowns offers the opportunity to stroll the cemeteries in the area. Many relatives might be buried there with new information offered on the headstones. Go to the county courthouse and request to view their land, voting and business records. They are always willing to assist visitors on their family searches.
If there is a local historical museum, talk to the curator. Most museums carry photos, ledges, documents, city directories and informational files on many of their town’s citizenry. It is usually to museums that families have donated items from their home before moving out of the area.
Not possible to visit the ancestral hometown, then, you certainly need to learn more about the location. Review with other family members, check what they know of the hometowns for each family branch. Conduct a general search using books and the Internet to explore the history of the town, especially during the period your ancestors lived there.
The Periodical Source Index (PERSI) has articles on particular towns. This is an index of nearly 2 million articles in genealogical and local history periodicals (magazines, journals, newsletters) throughout the United States, Canada, England and Ireland since 1800. The index can be found in the Family History Centers of the LDS all across the United States, at the Allen County Public Library in Indiana and some 200 other public libraries. With this index you can search by locations and / or family names. Once you find the content you are interested in, you will also have the publication, issue and date of the article. Copies of the article can then be found in public and genealogical libraries.
A fun collection to start relating to genealogy is postcards. Most every location had the popular postcards from the late 19th century, well through most of the 20th century. These images and snippets of information about churches, restaurants, parks, businesses and schools were placed on thousands of postcards. It offers glimpses into your ancestors’ everyday life, even when those places no longer exist today.
The public library in a town carries local history besides rolls of microfilm covering years of the local newspaper articles. Either when visiting a hometown or when writing and making a request, the library can supply a great deal of new information.
The ‘American Memory Project’, of the 1930s is now part of the American Library of Congress, based in Washington, D. C. The purpose was to preserve oral and written histories and visual images of locations across America. At its online site, you can browse the topic titled, ‘Cities, Towns’. Use the search box to narrow down your selections. Countless maps, photos, illustrations and documents all relating to a specific town at different time periods was available. Using the topic ‘Culture, Folk Life’ can yield journals, posters, letters, poems or photos about a region.
Now just the more recent hometowns, but the original fatherland or native lands of your ancestors before they arrived in America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand are important to learn about. Since everyone is an immigrant or a descendant of an immigrant, there is still another location which should be studied to make your family history complete.