“This is my most special place in all the world. Once a place touches you like that, the wind never blows so cold again” From the film Field of Dreams spoken by Dr. Archibald Graham played by Burt Lancaster.
The lucky ones among us have a place that fits the description of the above quote. It is a place that defines us, shaped us in our growing years, and gave us the unique outlook we have on the world at large. I have such a place. It is found in northern New York in the Champlain Valley. A place called Plattsburgh.
Many of our ancestors that we research had a special place also. Perhaps they were among the first settlers that brought a location to life and formed a town. Perhaps generations of your family lived in one place leaving their mark upon it, and in turn being influenced and cradled by that very place. The fact is they are the place, and the place is them.
I just recently returned from a place called Digby, in Nova Scotia. My ancestors helped settled the area over 200 years ago. To be able to go there and walk on their land, see the buildings they built, the monuments erected in their honor, walk in the churches they worshiped in, and find their graves, helped me understand them a little better. To have that type of understanding makes all the difference in your family history. Suddenly they are more than names and dates. They start to breathe and come to life. We even begin to understand them a little more.
This week I just came back from an all too brief visit to my hometown, Plattsburgh, N.Y.. I have not lived there since the early 70s. However, even today when someone inquires where I am from, Plattsburgh, is my first thought. In the years past I have brought my children and grandchildren to my hometown. They all have received the “tour” more than once. I recounted stories and showed them the special places of my youth.
When you have an ancestor that you are trying to learn more about, spend some time learning about where they lived. Did they live on a farm or in town? Where did they worship? Did they go to a small school or a large city school? What type of work did they do? Who were the family and friends they had in the area? You can find answers in town histories, old newspapers, photographs, vital records, old postcards of the area, and searching on the internet. Construct a time line of your ancestor and their home town. This will put events in order for you. Contact a local historical society, they most likely will have much information just waiting for you.
When you learn about a place, you will learn about the people from that place. So get to know your ancestors a little better by getting to know where and how they lived.