It was Max who mentioned the stories which are attached to people in a family tree...and of course everyone has their own personal story to tell, but not all were written down.
The early American settlers are relatively easy...at the beginning of the mass exodus to the New World there weren't many people and the records were kept meticulously. Births, Marriages and Deaths were all carefully recorded in books and papers which still exist today...land sales and ownership were also recorded with the acreage and buildings noted and what the land itself was suitable for...cereal crops or grazing for instance. It is easy enough to begin to build up a picture of your ancestors life...
The churches were important buildings as were the Pastors and Lay Speakers so there are detailed records available about them...who funded the actual building of the church and the cost is often included.
Extensive research has gone into tracing the actual graves of those first settlers and they were more often than not inscribed with their names and dates so finding out where 'John Smith' was buried is relatively easy also.
And of course the stories...especially those involving crimes , arguments over who owned what, and the petty squabbles over inheritance were also recorded.
You find John Smith and establish he is actually your five times removed first cousin. Then you find his marriage to Jane and the births of their ten children. You might discover he left a Will, the record of which is still available...and he wrote his eldest son out of the Will because of a squabble. The courts will have a record of John Smiths son contesting the Will...and so begins another story.
The Wills give out vast amounts of information because people didn't just leave everything to their wife...they left small gifts to many people...a bushel of corn to my neighbour Will Jones...my feather mattress to my sister Ann...and so on. From the Wills you can find out much more about what was considered valuable in the 1600's in America...and work out the crops that were grown and the animals they owned...so you might see...'My best riding horse to my daughter Kate' 'My second best riding horse to my brother James'....now that fills in more detail...this was a man who was wealthy enough to own two riding horses.
Now John Smiths story begins to take some shape...he left Devon in England when he was eighteen and sailed to America with most of his immediate family...was married three times and had a total of fifteen children. He bought land and built a house and became a wealthy person. He wasn't involved in any Indian skirmishes but two of his sons were killed by Indians...that is on record. He must have got along with his neighbour Will if he left him a bushel of corn...and he also lived in some degree of comfort if he had a feather mattress. And so on.
From the very early English Parish records you might be able to find out John Smiths origins...he might go way back to the Normans perhaps or maybe the records come to an abrupt stop in the 1400's and go no further...
There is absolutely no way I'd have found even a tiny part of my own family history without the Internet...it simply wouldn't be possible without long hours spent in libraries hunched over books. It wouldn't be possible either to have gone so far back as 600 ce without access to the Ancestry site...and Google of course, because that will so often back up a story or a part of history which I might be unsure about...
The Clandestine marriages information for instance came in part from finding the marriage record of a relative...Non-Conformist Clandestine Marriage...so I looked it up on Google. And found more information about where they took place etc...then that leads to prisons and yet more information about the conditions...
Many of those records are available on line as the originals...so you can actually see the handwriting and whether or not the people getting married could write...very many left their mark instead.
Those whose stories might never fully come to light are the farm workers of the Victorian times...their trees peter out around the late 1700's...they didn't always have their babies baptised, probably because they couldn't afford it...they didn't leave a Will because they simply had nothing to leave. There are no family Bibles lurking in someone's attic because the cost would have been beyond their means, so babies were born and died and no record was kept...
And those farm workers constantly moved about around their home county...probably going to the hiring fairs to obtain a new position for the coming year, so they don't even have one house to call their home.
The landed gentry and the various Lords and Earls and the odd Baron are easy to trace...their stories are in the history books and Burkes Peerage and a swift Google will bring up almost too much information.
Everyone has stories to tell...your family tree will bring up people who went to America...who fought in the French-Indian Wars...who died in the trenches of the First World War, who owned a butchers shop in the East End of London or was a felt maker and employed an apprentice...you'll find a little girl who made straw bonnets or plaited ropes or a man who hired out bath chairs at the local spa...
From War records you can learn about your cousins hair colour and his height and if he had a mole on his cheek...and who it was who vouched for his right age on enlistment...
The man who owned the butchers shop and specialised in game, he'll be in the Trades Directory...
You don't know about the French-Indian Wars...and I didn't...then you look them up and begin to slowly put together who your people were.
I suppose I've become obsessed...I want to know more and more about my past and those people who lived in it...much is unpleasant...it isn't nice to know one of your family was hung, drawn and quartered...many self destructed as well...killing themselves by drowning, gunshot or knife...the Vikings tended to die in battles...the Normans left this mortal coil on a regular basis while still too young...and many expired on the way to the Holy Land...but all those individuals had their own personal story to tell...for me to investigate and squirrel out and put down.
What is awful sad is that no-one but me seems to much care...the children think it's it plain weird...my brother is half-hearted and only wants to know if the person was titled...so I plod along regardless. Adding the little straw-bonnet maker with her nimble fingers and the family who had twenty children of whom only seven survived childhood...the young Viking who died in battle...the fervent preacher in his wooden church in America...I'll add the Bible bashers and the Non-Conformists and the one and only Quaker and those who faith was Baptist.
And one day I'll put them into a book...the butchers and the bakers and the candlestick makers and the stories of their lives.