Focus your search on the diaries and letters of people who lived near your ancestor. Start with a local historical society. Search online catalogs of local, state and university libraries, and the transcribed journals and interviews at In the First Person <www.inthefirstperson.com> (which has both free and fee-based content). And consult American Diaries: An Annotated Bibliography of Published American Diaries and Journals/Diaries Written From 1845 to 1980 by Laura Arksey (Gale).
Clubs and organizations
Clubs, organizations and secret societies have been around ever since people started noticing they had things in common with other people. Your ancestors joining options abounded. There were occupation-related, religious, military, political, sports, ethnic and hobby clubs. Membership in fraternal organizations such as the Masons, Knights of Pythius, Elks and Odd Fellows also was common. Where and with whom your ancestors chose to spend their spare time registers high on the personality-profile meter.
The simple fact your ancestor was a club member is informative. People who join clubs tend to be sociable. The type of club gives you some insight, too. Was Great-grandma a member of the Womens Christian Temperance Union (which began advocating prohibition in 1873)? Did Great-granddad join the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), an organization for Union Civil War veterans? Consider the organizations purpose and whether it was dedicated to charitable projects or political activismor whether the main objective was smoking, drinking and playing cards.
From the September 2009 Family Tree Magazine