How Does History Fit In With Genealogy?

After you get a sense of who your family members are, and where and when they lived, you could do a little history lesson.

Understanding what was happening in their world at the time may reveal some clues and help you to gain a better sense of who these family members really were.

Look Beyond the Names

Take a look at where your relatives lived and look at the history of that community at that time to reveal the larger story of your ancestor’s lives.

What was it like for them back then? The world was a very different place 100 years ago. So many factors could have influenced where they lived, their profession and their financial situation. Things like:

  • War
  • Depression
  • Natural disasters (floods, drought)

Knowing about the different historical events going on may help to fill in some gaps, or better understand why relatives passed away young or why they moved.

I came across a really interesting video from called “Putting your Ancestors’ Lives in Historical Context”. Crista Cowan provides a lot of great advice and a good reminder to look outside your family tree for clues.

It’s a lengthy video, but offers practical advice and tips to try and understand the choices your relatives made. It’s all about trying to paint a larger picture.


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The Golden Rules

I came across this infographic from Got Genealogy? It offers some great reminders and advice to keep in mind when researching your family history.

The reality with genealogy is that we may never have a “complete” family tree. There are always more relatives and more details to confirm. We have to do the best we can with the information we can find!

Golden Rules of Genealogy

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Key to my Childhood

Ever wonder how different your childhood would be if you had lived somewhere else?

The old farm house where I grew up - so many great childhood memories there.

The old farm house where I grew up – so many great childhood memories there.

I couldn’t imagine growing up in any other place.

I grew up in a big white farm house in the country. I have some amazing memories there: playing “house” in the closets, climbing the door frames, scaling the kitchen counters and exploring the outdoors all summer long.

We would run barefoot outside – hard gravel or soft grass – it didn’t matter.

I always thought it was the house I missed, until I came across this quote:

Childhood Home Quote

Over the years I have lived in about 14 different houses. Of them all, this one stands out as my all-time favourite; a connection to my past. Many of my childhood memories will forever be tied to this house.

Quote found at Brainy Quote
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Baking as a Family

The heavenly aroma of fresh baked bread.

My mom's family recipe - a favourite over the years.

My mom’s family recipe – a favourite over the years.

When I was little my mom made air buns. We would be her little helpers braiding the stretchy dough. Although they take half a day to make, I remember it feeling much longer as a child!

We went to my mom’s house and she taught my daughters and I how to knead the dough, and all the steps in between. It has been a long time since I made them last!

They were amazing – crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside. The house smelled just like a bakery.

I have fond memories of making twisty bread with my mom and I want my children to share in that experience.

If only you could have homemade bread this quickly!

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Recording Your Own Family History

After collecting family details and records, do you ever wonder what to do with the information?

Family history is more than just key names and dates, it’s also about the stories that make your family unique. There are many ways to record your own family history:

ListAfter working so hard to compile and pull together so many resources, consider organizing them so they can be shared with family members.

It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive. After my grandfather passed away, my mom and I put together a family history book to share with everyone at our summer picnic. My grandpa did most of the hard work by collecting many family names and dates. So to honour his memory and showcase his hard work, we put it all together in a nice coil bound book.

It told his story and had a detailed record of our family tree going back several generations. Everyone paid $10 for a book (to cover the printing costs) – a fairly small fee for the wealth of information it provided.

It can be as simple or as complex as you want. It all depends on the time you have available, and of course the budget. Try to keep in mind who you are doing it for – yourself, your own family, or all of your extended family?

No Family Tree is Ever “Complete”

There is always more information that can be added, or more names to search for. If you want to put together a printed family history, it helps to have a deadline – perhaps a family function. It can serve as a starting point to get family members talking about your ancestors, and encourage them to dig in their own files for old photos, letters and documents, and recall stories they remember most. Plus it can help to have other family members verify spellings of names, dates and locations.

If you are interested in printing a family history book, consider adding other visual elements. In addition to including important family records and pedigree charts, include:


Not Sure How to Write Your Own History?

Here is a detailed article that can help: 10 Steps to Writing Your Family History. And the FamilySearch Research Wiki has a section about Writing Your Family and Personal History.

If you want to interview relatives to tell their story, visit This Is Me Challenge for a comprehensive list of questions to ask.

What do you do with your family history information?

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Exploring “Coat of Arms”

A coat of arms brings to mind medieval times with swords, shields and armour. I love that it is a visual representation of a family name.

What is a Coat of Arms?

It’s basically a shield that identifies a particular person. It was an easy way to identify people on the battlefield. Over time its function changed and according to Wikipedia the designs on the shields became more elaborate. As they were passed down with every generation, slight changes were added and some families would even merge their coats of arms.

Do All Families Have a Coat of Arms?

No. According to the College of Arms (official heraldic authority for England, Wales and Northern Ireland), there are no coats of arms for surnames because they only belong to individuals. That’s why you may come across several versions of a coat of arms for a surname, and they can vary quite a bit depending what country your family comes from.

What’s Included in a Coat of Arms?

Do the Symbols Have Special Meaning?

A shield I had made as a wedding gift for my husband.

A shield I had made as a wedding gift for my husband.

Of course! All the different components are made up of symbols, such as animals, plants, colours, lines, even textures such as fur – each with different meanings. Those meanings can vary, depending on the source.

For example, the Williams coat of arms has a gold lion which represents bravery and strength, while the dog on top represents courage and loyalty.

Although this particular coat of arms may not be from our direct family line, it evokes a sense of pride, and it makes a great conversation piece.

For an extensive list of symbols and their meanings, please visit Fleur-de-lis Designs.

Can Countries Have a Coat of Arms?

The Coat of Arms of Canada as depicted in 1957.

The Coat of Arms of Canada as depicted in 1957.

Yes, it appears most countries have a national coat of arms, or an emblem.

Canada’s coat of arms has a lot of influences from Great Britain and France, fused with distinctly Canadian symbols and colours.

On the shield, the red square contains the three royal lions of England, the yellow square has the royal lion of Scotland, and the bottom two blue squares have the royal Irish harp of Tara and the royal fleurs-de-lis of France. And of course there are three maple leaves in red to symbolize Canada.

A detailed description of the parts of Canada’s coat of arms can be found at Canadian Heritage, and visit the Royal Heraldry Society of Canada for a history of the Royal Arms of Canada.

How Do I Find My Coat of Arms?

A quick Google search of your last name will pull up information about its history. If you have a common last name, as I do, add some search terms, such as “surname”, “coat of arms” or “family crest”. There are many companies to choose from that sell family coat of arm products, such as T-shirts, mugs, framed prints and printed histories. They offer a search of their database where you will hopefully find a coat of arms for your own family name.


Canadian Coat of Arms photo located at Wikimedia.
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Evolution of a Last Name

My grandmother is not sure how to spell her maiden name: Jacob, Jakob or Jakab?  I have actually come across records with all three of the various spellings. Part of the problem is when her parents moved to North America, names were changed. They were “Anglicized”. 

Jacob, Jakob or Jakab?It has always surprised me how fluid names were, and how easily they were changed. This creates a real challenge for those researching family history.

There is an article on Wikipedia about the Anglicisation of Names. It explains that names were often changed to sound more “English” when immigrants came to Canada and the US.

There could be many reasons for this.

Names may have been written how they sounded, or simply been translated into the English version. Other languages have different letters that cannot be converted into English, resulting in different spellings. If people didn’t know how to read or write, they relied on census takers to document their personal information, and it could have been recorded incorrectly.

What's in a name? QuoteOn the flip side, people may have consciously chosen to have more “English” or “American” sounding names to adjust to a new place.

An interesting article from the New York Times explains that people have changed names over the years when immigrating, in hopes of avoiding discrimination. Some people change names to better fit in, or to set up a business.

Since the 1970s-1980s people are retaining their surnames. As the article explains, this may have to do with pride in your nationality, but a lot may have to do with the legal documentation that you already have (birth certificates, drivers licenses, passports), and the difficulty and cost associated with actually changing them.

If you are uncertain about names in your family tree, try searching for the different variations and match the results with information you know (birth/marriage/death dates or a location). I have found that when searching for names, they often allow for a “wild card” letter, or let you search for parts of a name, in case you are not sure of the exact spelling.

Quote made with Quozio
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