Monday, April 5, 2010

The GEO in GenEalOgy

More than once, I have accidentally typed "geography" when I meant to type "genealogy." Perhaps, this happens because I once was a graduate student in geography. Or, perhaps it is because genealogy and geography are so inter-connected in my mind.

One of my favorite lectures is entitled "The GEO in GenEalOgy." In this talk, I try to get people excited about the geographical aspects of family history research.

Genealogists often have a fascination for history. Studying our family history brings "real history" to life. Historical events were the backdrop of our ancestors' lives. Geography gives similar context to our ancestors' lives. If historical events are the backdrop, the land is the stage on which our ancestors lived. Our ancestors lived in both time and space. And, our ancestors didn't stand still. They moved around from place to place, leaving tracks wherever they went.

Why did our ancestors live where they lived? How did they get there? Why did they stop where they did. How did the natural environment influence their lives? Mountains and waterways channeled migration. Soil made farmers rich or poor. Climate made life comfortable or near to impossible. By learning about these things, we begin to better understand our ancestors' lives. Without modern climate control, high-tech water supply and water control technologies, or high-speed transportation, their lives were more influenced by the natural world than are ours (or so we think).

So, take the time to study maps and get to know the geography of your ancestors' lives. It will add a whole new dimension to your genealogical research.

(c) J. H. Fonkert, 2010.