Understanding Different Cultures
By Dale E. Lee
- Why learn about Different Cultures?
- Context is everything
- Culture Comparisons
- History Books
- Social Media Groups
Why learn about Different Cultures?
Becoming effective in Family History research is more than just running database repository searches. The searches can be of great assistance, but what if they don’t find what you are looking for? Records are being added daily to their repositories, but the records you are looking for might not have been digitized and indexed yet.
This is the point at which understanding Cultures and History can become important. Some world events cause migrations and it is important to see where those migrations could have lead your ancestors. To be able to trace back to where they come from, it is a good idea to become familiar with the migration paths from the old countries. Migration paths can be viewed from either end, leaving or entering.
By understanding the cultures they lived in before and after migration, you can improve your ability to understand why your ancestors would have done what they did. A very simple example of this is the great potato famine Ireland suffered from 1845 to 1852. Many left for the new world to avoid starvation.
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Context is everything
If I tell you that I have a ball, what does that tell you? Is it a basketball, a ball bearing, a football, a large dance, or what? As you can see, knowing that it is a ball does narrow the field, but not far enough to really tell what kind of a ball I’m talking about.
The same thing happens in Family History. I can tell you something about a person, but if you don’t understand the context of the space-time continuum I’m referring to, you may miss some very important clues that will help you find the rest of the puzzle.
AncestoriesXR gives an excellent example of context by using immersive media to let you experience the world an ancestor would have experienced in mid-19th Century Chicago as migrants poured into that city. See https://www.familysearch.org/rootstech/rtc2021/session/ancestoriesxr. The presentation allows you to view the story and rotate a full 360 degrees inside of the moving picture. Listen to the story line explaining the context while you view the buildings, streets and vehicles of that bygone era in all directions.
The point is that little hints and clues picked up while you immerse yourself in the context of the time can lead you in different directions than you originally suspected you’d need to go.
Another way to get in touch with the context of the your ancestor’s experience is to expose yourself to the culture they lived in. Wikipedia is an effective means exposing you to many different countries, cultures, and histories.
Traditions of the Ancestors (TOTA) has an interesting way to learn about different cultures around the world. They use what they call a comparative search, https://www.tota.world/comparative-search. This search can be used to compare two different cultures to each other. The result of the search shows differences in food, religion, holidays, arts, fashion, warfare, art, history, etc.
Using the TOTA comparisons you can envision how your ancestors experiences would be different than your own. It is helpful to know what choices your ancestor may have had when faced with the challenges they were given. It may also help you appreciate them on a whole new level.
And the TOTA application is a good way to preserve culture over time.
The above examples are some of the newer, more innovate, ways to get in touch with your inner ancestor. But even not so innovative ways are important, for example, history books. History books help in the study of the groups of people and in migration paths. In the past people tended to migrate in groups and to stay together in groups in the new country. This has changed over time and nowadays we are a far more mobile society, but back then it was more prevalent to stick together for mutual protection.
For example, if you find they migrated to Germany, what group of people did they come with, and what was happening at the time to cause them to do that? Recent history has shown that many people have migrated from Syria to Europe because of civil strife in the former country. The same has happened in many parts of the world over time. Learning about those migrations can help narrow down the number of locations you need to search.
Social Media Groups
Another well known means of finding your ancestor is to join social media groups. There are people in social media groups that may be willing to help you find your ancestor. This is helpful if you cannot physically go to that country to do the research yourself. Someone in the country of interest may be willing to donate the time to help you, even if it is an inconvenience to themselves, and you should be very grateful if they do.
Remember that even if the members of the group cannot take the time to help you out directly, they may be able to give you a reference or referral to someone or somewhere you can find the information you are looking for. A referral may be almost as good as the original thing. If they live in the country, they will understand the context far better than you, and may help lead you through the maze to find what you are looking for.
Searching record repositories is an additional way to find the information you need to further your research. For example, County Record Libraries. However, this article is addressing the need to get contextual information, not necessarily documentational information. You may not even know the record repository where you need to do the research until you get the context needed to look there. For example, most of the records in England can be found in one repository, but where would they be found for Ireland?
Once you drain the obvious solutions like the internet and search engines, look for ways to get around the remaining roadblocks. Understanding history and culture can help you unlock clues you may need to find additional sources information you have not yet thought of.
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