Unless it is to be simply a catalogue of names, the history of a family is impossible to fathom without coming up for air and scanning the wider horizon. Once the branches proliferate, families become neighborhoods and groups, and groups take shape around the work they do and where they find themselves doing it. Without local history to anchor it, family history is adrift in time.--Alison Light, Common People: The History of an English Family (London: Fig Tree, an imprint of Penguin Books, 2014), 31.
I want my ancestors to be more than just a name. Local history and social history provide context, breathing life into them. My ancestors interacted with others in their neighborhoods and communities. I need to research them. My ancestors worked. I need to find what they did and the social context for that job. If my ancestor was a farmer, what did he grow? What was the soil like in that region? What did others grow in the area? Did weather impact his yield? That's just a few question I could ask. While my progress in Light's book is not far, she demonstrated the needle-making industry in the area her ancestors resided and compared their business to others in the area engaged in the same industry. She discussed the typical jobs in the needle-making industry. It made her grandmother's family come to life for the reader.