Every time period and every family has its traditions. Often, the two mix. Sometimes, they are separate. They are all important to our understanding of our families and our heritage. That is why they should be preserved. Part of your genealogical research should always be to find out about the traditions of the times in which your ancestors lived, and any special family traditions, and then record them for posterity. If you don’t, these important historical details may be lost, and our understanding of our families and of the past may suffer because of it. This is your genealogical responsibility.
The good news is that it is fun to learn about traditions from the past. The traditions we celebrate as a society and as individual families today have changed from practices that may have been far different from what we know now. Tracing the traditions of such holidays as Easter and Christmas, for example, shows how they started, the way they changed with the times, and the way they got to be what they are today. Knowing these things helps us understand the world in which our ancestors lived much better, and gives us a stronger idea of what kind of people they were, as well as what their beliefs and values most likely were. These are rich and important details to add to any family history, and are particularly important if you are turning a family history into historical fiction. Even if you’re writing nonfiction, details on traditions can flesh out the book and make the people in it more real to your audience.
You can find out about old family traditions by asking your older relatives about how they did things when they were little, and what their own older relatives from their childhoods told them about their family traditions from generations ago. Also try looking into town histories, county histories, old letters and diaries, and old newspaper articles to find details about the particular family traditions your ancestors practiced. You would be surprised how many detailed descriptions of holiday celebrations, anniversary parties, weddings, and children’s birthday parties there are in old newspapers going back more than a century.
Discover more about the traditions of the times and places in which your ancestors lived by doing research online and in local and regional archives. Online research can give you detailed information about general traditions from time periods among various groups of people. Looking in local and regional archives will tell you many things about the traditions that may have been particular to a city or town, or even county. The deeper you look, the more details you will discover, and the more chance you will have of re-discovering information on traditions that has been lost to general public knowledge for generations. Bringing this information back to the public is a precious gift to everyone.
Traditions tell us things about our ancestors that bring them back to life for us, by making them seem like real people again. They also tell us about the times and places in which our ancestors lived. Include these details in your family history and it will be much richer and more valuable and special for it.
Will Moneymaker founded Ancestral Findings back in 1995. He has been involved in genealogy research for over 20 years. The thrill of the hunt, the adventure, and the excitement begin when he started investigating the meaning of his surname. Why I Love Genealogy (And You Should, Too!)