In my initial follow up post to the Midwest Family History Expo, Reflections on the Midwest Family History Expo I stated "We can not truly know our ancestor unless we know how they lived, where they lived and what the world was like that they lived in." This was the premise of Gena Philibert Ortega's session on Combining Historical Research with Genealogy.
Gena stressed the importance of researching the history of the area your ancestors lived in and to not limit this research to only the geography. Use of historical time lines will most certainly help to put our ancestors into their proper context of what was happening in the world around them. What about the social, religious and economic context? We have to gain a complete understanding of the challenges faced in order to more fully understand why our ancestors made the choices they made. This can lead to assumptions as to when, why and how they may have moved about the county, state or even the country.
By following up on these assumptions, we may find our ancestors in places we didn't expect and had not researched before. Farming families may have migrated during droughts, wide-spread sickness may explain why family members disappeared from the census, a new railway line may explain how your family was able to visit other family members and show up in records, unexpectedly, in another area. All of these "life events" impacted our ancestors movements and without knowing what they faced we can not create a complete picture.
Gena provided a lengthy list of sources for performing historical research and I look forward to giving them a try.