Activity SevenResearch a Historical Person

A migrant woman with a small child in an old 1930s era vehicle. Oskaloosa, Kansas. October 1938. Credits: John Vachon; The Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division

Activity Goal Place a Relative into Historical Context


Find one of your relatives on a census from two, three, or even four generations ago - using the internet, research the major regional, national and international events of the year the census took place.

  • Look for unusual weather events, volcanic eruptions, wars and conflicts, terrorism, economic turbulence, governmental oppression, and large movements of people.
  • What kinds of joys and struggles did your subject live through?
  • What was the popular music of the time? Can you listen to some of the hit songs?
  • What movies were big that year, if you didn’t go back to a time before movies?

Collect official documents, articles from newspapers, audio and video files, and write your own summaries of events in a document on your computer. When you are happy with it, you can print it out and add it to the hard copy of your family history book.

If you can’t find or don’t know any relatives from long ago, pick a famous person who was born several generations before you and research what happened during that person’s life. Don’t focus so much on what your subject did. Instead, try to find out what was happening in the world in which that person lived.

Try to understand how those events and conditions affected people who lived through them, including your specific person. This skill of looking at the bigger picture of historical events can then be used to better understand the contexts that influence behaviors and motivations for people throughout history. It might even help you understand something about yourself!

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A family of three studies a map on their kitchen table.