So we spent the first week discussing the importance of detail and description in your stories. We looked at some of the tools in adding that detail and description. Looking mostly at the five senses. And we have much more to come, we will get into more detail in describing the setting and your characters and actions. But I know you’re asking but what if I don’t have these descriptions and details to make an event come to life on the page. Or I don’t have a picture of an ancestor, how do I describe them in my story. So the answer is simple and not so simple. It’s simple because we can find these details in social history. It’s not so simple because it means more research.
The Lives of Ordinary People
When we study social history, we are studying the lives of ordinary people. We place our ancestors in groups, and we look and learn at how those groups behaved. This allows us to begin to fill in some of those behaviours, thought patterns. We begin to understand our ancestor on a deeper level, but it can also help to do everything from put the clothes on their back and food on the table to understanding their actions and reactions. We place our ancestors into social groups based on their culture, religion, education, occupation, sex, age, social status, the list is extensive.
For example, you have a marriage certificate, which gives you a lot of lovely facts about your great grandmother’s wedding. However, it doesn’t tell us anything about the ceremony itself, social history can do that. History and social history studies can tell us what the church looked like, the wedding customs of the day, her dress, his attire, the religious ceremony and even the weather for the day.
Social history along with world, regional and local history is a great tool for reconstructing your ancestor’s entire world.
Suppose you don’t have a picture of your ancestor. You know he was a peasant farmer in the mid-west United States during 1850. Based on this information and by doing some social history research into farmers in that area, at that time, you can determine, the style of dress, hairstyles, facial hair. Look at his culture, religion, which also might add some insights into his appearance. Based on your social history research you can then surmise a brief description of his appearance. You know the expression a little goes a long way. In this case, it definitely applies. Give the reader just enough and let their imaginations fill in the rest.
Here is a list of some of the social history factors you can research when building your ancestor’s world.
- Arts and Literature
- Dating and Marriage
- Old Age and Death
- Health and Medicine
- Law and Society
- Military and War
- Social Ranking