Use social history resources to learn more about your ancestors’ daily lives.
Your ancestor was not an island; he did not live in isolation. He had a family (sons, daughters, siblings, parents, cousins, aunts, uncles, and so on). He interacted with the people around him and the environment in which he lived. How was his daily life different from yours?
The websites presented here are just a sampling of what can be found on the Internet to help you learn about your ancestors’ family and home life. Use these website examples as a guide to customize searches for your specific research goal.
Family Life 1780 – 1820: During this period after the American Revolution, towns grew while new and existing cities experienced unprecedented growth. Men and women redefined their roles to meet the social, economic and political demands of a new government and society.
The Authentic History Center: Images of artifacts and historic sounds from American popular culture from the American Revolution era to present day.
Farm Life in the 18th Century: This article by Eugene Scheel, historian and mapmaker, talks about farm life in early Virginia.
Courtship and Marriage in the Eighteenth Century: Courtship, engagement, and marriage rituals.
Farm Wife, 1900: A description of farm life written at the turn of the twentieth century by an anonymous woman who had secret aspirations to be a writer.
Visit living history museums to immerse yourself into an historic time period or location. Visiting these sites in person will allow you to step back in time. Costumed interpreters go about daily life as it was during the time period represented by the museum. Some are interactive allowing visitors to take part in routine tasks that were performed by our ancestors. There are living history museums all across the United States. You can search for living history museums on the Association for Living History, Farm, and Agricultural Museums website and the Museums and Historic Structures page on the Preservation Directory website.
A small sampling of living history museums
Old Sturbridge Village, Sturbridge, MA – The village depicts a rural New England town of the 1830s with more than 40 original buildings, including homes, meetinghouses, a district school, country store, bank, working farm, three water-powered mills, and trade shops on 200 acres. Visitors can interact with authentically costumed staff.
Colonial Williamsburg, VA – This restored eighteenth-century capital of colonial Virginia offers guided tours and costumed interpreters who act as residents of the Historic Area. There’s no admission to walk the streets, but a purchased ticket is required to enter any buildings where most of the demonstrations take place.
Old World Wisconsin, Eagle, WI – The museum has more than 60 historic structures dedicated to the history of rural life. There are three distinct historic areas: Scandinavian Homesteads (with 1890s and 1910 Finnish immigrant farms), Crossroads Village (with a general store, machine shop, wagon shop, blacksmith shop, yankee farm, and more), and Life on the Farms (with an 1880s German immigrant farm and a 1910s integrated community church and chapel).
Living History Farms, Urbandale, IA – An interactive 500-acre outdoor history museum that connects people of all ages to Midwestern rural life experiences. The museum tells the 300-plus-year story of how Iowans transformed the fertile prairies of the Midwest into the most productive farmland in the world. Walking trails and tractor-drawn carts connect the 1875 Town of Walnut Hill, 1700 Ioway Indian Farm, 1850 Pioneer Farm, and 1900 Horse-powered Farm.
Genesee Country Village and Museum, Mumford, NY – Interactive programs, events, and exhibits help visitors understand the lives and times of nineteenth-century America. The 600-acre complex consists of 68 historic structures, historic gardens, and an art gallery.
Pioneer Living History Museum, Phoenix, AZ – An old 1800s town, with authentic buildings and historically accurate reproductions, situated on over 90 acres. After touring the Victorian house, blacksmith shop, and jail, enjoy panning for gold and watching a gun fight re-enactment show.
Shoal Creek Living History Museum, Kansas City, MO – The museum has twenty-one structures with seventeen authentic nineteenth-century buildings dating from 1807 to 1885. The buildings were relocated from surrounding counties to create a village setting. During special events, the buildings are open and re-enactors bring the village to life.
How large was their family?
How many sons? Daughters?
How far apart in age were the children?
Were there extended family members living with them?
How old were they when they got married?
How did they choose the names for their children?
What chores did the children have?
Were there special stories handed down by grandparents?
Did the family have pets? What were their names?
Did the family keep in touch with relatives, near and far?
Who was the oldest relative you remember as a child?
Did more than one generation live together?
What were the courtship practices?
Updated September 2017