Compared to the sprawling family tree on my mom’s side, my dad’s paternal side looks like the Charlie Brown Christmas tree. It goes back only to my great-grandparents, and has my grandfather and his siblings, and my dad and his sisters.
I haven’t found any siblings of my great-grandparents, and I’m not ready to tackle genealogy in the old country, Syria.
I’ve accepted that my paternal tree is going to stay short for the time being. So what I’m focused on now is fluffing out and decorating this Charlie Brown tree with social history details that tell me what my relatives’ lives were like.
Here’s one find: I learned from a city directory that in 1924, after he’d graduated from high school, my grandfather was a helper at the Collin Street Bakery in Corsicana, Texas.
From Google searching, I learned that the bakery is still in business and pretty well-known.
I Googled the bakery name and history, and found a catalog entry from the Baylor University Institute for Oral History, describing a 1971 interview with owners of the bakery. A transcript was available. I found a Contact link and asked about the best way to get a copy on paper or digitally. Within two days, I had an email with a link to download a PDF.
Two of the men interviewed had started working at the bakery as young men, around the time my grandfather did, and they chatted with the interviewer about their work. Here’s a description of wrapping the bread:
The bakery also made fruitcake, which it’s now famous for:
I’m not sure Grandpa was around for fruitcake season, since another 1924 city directory for Austin says he was a student at the University of Texas.
From this and other records, I know he attended the engineering school then and again in the 1930s. Searching online for the history of the school, I turned up a booklet titled:
A history of the department. It looks to be a draft, because it contains editors’ notes. Besides information on the school, professors and student life, it gives the curriculum my grandfather likely followed:
Social history is everything that was going on around your ancestor. It could be an acute local event—the county fair, a new business opening up or a natural disaster—that directly affected family members. It could be a long-term occurrence, such as a population migration or war. Or it could be a contemporary issue they shook their heads over.
I’m starting close to home with my grandfather’s school and work, but there’s a lot to explore. These free FamilyTreeMagazine.com articles will help in your social history search:
- Social history resources including places to find histories online, family history narratives and research guides
- Resources for finding out about the weather events that affected your family’s lives
- The worst epidemics our ancestors witnessed and a timeline of major US epidemics
- Women’s history timeline
- Popular overland migration routes in the United States
A fun approach to discovering social history (and reminiscing with Mom and Dad) is our book Remember That? A Year-by-Year Chronicle of Fun Facts, Headlines, & Your Memories, which lists news and facts on politics, fads, sports, music, movies, inventions and more from 1930 to 2010.
You’ll also find places to start in our Family Tree Shop downloadable Resource Roundup of social history websites. Also don’t miss the History Matters column in every issue of Family Tree Magazine.
Do you have a favorite social history tip or resource? Click Comments below to share it.