Building Your Ancestor’s World

In order to create a realistic setting for your family history story, you need to know a great deal about where your ancestor lived and the time period in which they lived.

 Setting can be a general as the country, province, town that your ancestors lived. However, the more specific you can be the more the reader will relate. Therefore, you need to get specific, the more specific the better.

 When you are incorporating setting in your story remember all of your senses, not just sight. Often we forget sound, smell and touch. Did Grandma here the church bell ringing every Sunday morning, or could Grandpa smell the horse barn from the house, or the cabbage rotting in the field?

 A setting breathes life into your story and it will come together from assorted pieces and finer points of an ancestors surrounding. Setting is the sum of many parts and the more specific and unique they are the more richness they will give your story. Details such as the clothes they wore, the bed they slept in and the fields they worked. Setting can also be in a social context, such as social trends, political ideas that influenced your ancestor’s actions and thinking.

 If there is too little sense of the period, or a sense of time your readers will be uninvolved. Setting is not just about describing the surroundings of an ancestor’s town, but building the entire world your ancestor lived in to the every detail, bringing your reader into that world with your ancestor.

 Below are some things to consider when looking at building your ancestor’s world for your family history story.

 Describe the street, or farm, property and community where your ancestor lived.

 What season is it when you are telling your story; this would change what your ancestor’s were wearing.

 Were you aware of any extreme weather changes, a drought, a snowstorm, a heat wave?

 If your ancestor had a particular career that perhaps details exist about there occupation.

 What laws, historical events that may affect them and their actions in a particular area?

 Where did they work, what was their workplace setting like? Where they a farmer, a miller, a merchant?

 What did their home look like, the furniture, the clothes they wore?

 Essentially what did the world look, smell and sound like from the perspective of your ancestor.


How do you find this information? 

Ideally it is wonderful if you can visit the places where your ancestor lived, walk the streets and neighbourhoods where they spent their lives. Setting requires a great deal of research.  You will find this information from a number of sources.

Local libraries and  historical societies for area can provide a great deal of information.

Social histories


Farmer’s Almanacs


These are just a few of the many resources available to you to put your ancestor in their place.