Trying to Understand the Whole Story

A very fun fast paced read.


To do a good job in your family genealogy research means hard work. Most of us know the time consuming and tedious search for records and then checking and comparing them. Also making sure you have the proper source citations so you and others can find the way back to the proof of your findings. Then once you have done all that you only have a bare bone family genealogy. Next, you must try and tell your ancestor’s story. Telling this story will involve more research. Looking up newspapers, reading old letters, perhaps being able to interview some of your older relatives, will be some more steps you will have to take. If you are one of the rare lucky ones, your ancestors kept detailed diaries that have been handed down over the years. Even if you have the letters, newspaper articles, and a diary, you still may not have a complete understanding of the times and events that they lived through. What you need even with or without all the great items named is a working understanding of the history of your ancestor’s lifetime

In 1927 Babe Ruth was having a very good year.
Bain News Service, Publisher. [Babe Ruth, New York AL baseball]. , 1921. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, (Accessed May 29, 2017.)

I recently read “One Summer America, 1927” by Bill Bryson. Please do not let the title fool you. While the book does center on the events of the summer of 1927, it is an excellent source for the flavor of daily life in the first part of the 20th century. The book is a fun read that captures the time, people, of the era, and of course the events of the summer in 1927.

You will read about crime, Lindbergh’s flight, Babe Ruth’s 60 home run season, the Mississippi Flood, and much more. Newspapers and magazines in this period were shaping and influencing our daily life with readerships so huge it is hard to imagine today.   Immigrants were in the news also. Ill-feeling was being shown toward some of our new citizens’ such as Italians. Those of the Jewish faith also found that they were not always welcome with open arms. Once you have read this book, you will have a much better understanding of life in the first part of the 20th century. By having that understanding, your ancestors will come closer to life for you. While you may not see or hear them laugh and cry, you will at least know what could have made them do so.

An Italian family has supper, East Side, New York City, 1915
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library. “An Italian family has supper, East Side, New York City, 1915” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed May 30, 2017.


This entry was posted in Lets Talk and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

50 Responses to Trying to Understand the Whole Story

  1. Jon Casbon says:

    Hear, hear! Genealogy is much more than dates and places.

  2. A very good book by one of my favorite authors! Nice post.

  3. Pierre Lagacé says:

    I agree with Jon.

  4. slfinnell says:

    I’m such a beginner. Sigh

  5. Su Leslie says:

    Agree. I’m definitely more of a family historian than a genealogist; social history has always interested me. I haven’t read this Bill Bryson book, but have loved others. Thanks for the introduction.

    • chmjr2 says:

      I have just started reading his books. What a great find!

      • Su Leslie says:

        He’s one of my favourite authors. I discovered him quite by accident when I went to a one-man show in the UK (knowing nothing about it). The actor was “performing” Bryson’s book ‘The Lost Continent’. It was amazing and I got hooked on the books. ‘Notes from a Small Island’ is still my favourite — probably because I lived for so long in the UK as an ex-pat Kiwi. Enjoy!

      • chmjr2 says:

        He certainly has a large following as I am learning.

  6. KerryCan says:

    I like Bryson’s writing a lot so I will go looking for this book!

  7. Yes, even an overview of the history of a period in which your family stories took place is a great help. I tend to avoid modern day history books because I want to experience the era first hand. This is why I find old newspaper reportage so important. Also, old newsreel footage is available at YouTube. Although the language and reportage are sometimes crude and blunt they offer us an opportunity to experience and gain insight into the events directly from the time period.

    Books and novels are another way to discover tidbits from the past which may prove fruitful when researched.

    • chmjr2 says:

      I also use the sources you have named. I will have to take a better look at You Tube. But I do find that a well researched and written history book can give you a better over-view of a certain time period. Also they list all the sources they used which can make for great reading also.

  8. croywright says:

    I enjoyed this post. Bryson is an outstanding author. I’m putting this one on my must reads.

  9. Elizabeth says:

    I have come to love reading history and all because I wanted to understand my forebears’ lives. Before my genealogy studies, I was a literature only student.

  10. Peter Klopp says:

    Thank you for your insightful post on your family research! I was lucky three times in my search for interesting stories. I discovered the journal of my wife’s great-great-grandfather, who was a very devoted Catholic in Germany. He had a problem with alcohol and wrote about his struggles to control his addiction. The second is a diary of my father-in-law that he wrote as a POW on cigarette paper. And the third one a 300 page book complete with references and footnotes dealing with my own ancestors on my father’s side. If I live long enough, I will have to deal with all these resources on klopp-family,com. I am looking forward reading your next post

    • chmjr2 says:

      Thank you for your kind remarks. I enjoy reading your blog very much. I think you should use the tags genealogy and Family History, these two tags would introduce you to more readers. I must admit I am a little envious of the three journals you have. I look forward to reading more about and from them in your future post.

  11. Spyro says:

    I love Bill Bryson, although I have not read this one. “History of Everything” and “A Walk in the Woods” are great. He is able to explain complex things, but in a way that I can understand, and in a fun and interesting way. Thank you.

  12. An understanding of the time adds so much to our understanding of our family members. I love the photos you included.

  13. Amy says:

    Thanks for the recommendation. I always love reading to get the historical context. This sounds great!

  14. I will add this book to my summer reading list. Thanks for sharing!

  15. Jim McKeever says:

    Looks like a good book, Charles! Entertaining, but also informative. Thanks for the headsup on that one. Bryson tells a good tale.

  16. Kerri says:

    Agree, There is a time when it turns from particulars to personal – that’s when you’re hooked

  17. evie1939 says:

    Thanks for the suggestion of a good book. I have not read any of his books yet but I feel from all the comments I am ready to start discovering his works.

  18. Shamwest says:

    Thanks so much for dropping by my blog Charles. I fear that family history is a never-ending task. I always tend to get further and further into the riveting stories and have to pull back to give the others a fair chance! lol

  19. Belinda's History Project says:

    Thanks for such great information. I am at the very beginning of my genealogy and family history journey but I look forward to being able to tell my ancestor’s stories with more context and depth and this is a great way to do that.

    • chmjr2 says:

      The one thing I will tell you about doing your family history is that for evey question you get answered at least two more questions pop up. I hope you find much information and best of luck. I look forward to reading about your finds.

      • Hello! I went away on vacation so I am just now reading your comment. Yes, I am finding this to be true for sure. I was researching some information my grandfather and walked away with more questions. But I feel like it’s how you look at it. At this early stage, I find it exciting. It’s like another mystery to solve. Thank you for visiting my blog and I look forward to being able to share more of my journey and getting to know more people interested in family history research.

  20. I agree with you in that the hard part of writing our family histories is putting the meat on the bones. It does take hours of research in order to breath life into our stories. Diaries and letters are a great source and many are readily available online these days, especially those written during wars. It is always helpful to see events through the eyes of someone who was there.

  21. My one aunt wrote a book about our family and even published it herself! Some of what she wrote is not based on facts, so we took it with a grain of salt until we found out the truth through our own research.

    • chmjr2 says:

      We all build on each others efforts. I wish someone in my family had published a book about our family. But if they had it would have been a mystery.

  22. My family history was a mystery. Solving it helped me understand my parents as well as myself. Now I know where some of our quirks came from!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s