The online encyclopaedia, Wikipedia, receives a lot of criticism for inaccuracy. To an extent this criticism is warranted, there are some bogus entries. However, Wikipedia is a good starting point for further research. It is particularly useful for adding background to your research because of it’s pages devoted to the events of specific years, or even specific days.
I’m one of those people who like to add background to the lists of dates and names I compile. I don’t think I’m unusual in this, most family historians do like to study local and national history, culture, etc. in an attempt to bring some colour to the basic details which are all many of us have about our ancestors. Even if we know more, it is useful to know what was going on in the society our ancestors lived in, often this information can help to explain why they did certain things, for example: moving to a new town. This is where a comprehensive encyclopaedia is extremely handy.
So, if you are curious about the world your ancestors were born into, pop over to Wikipedia, type a date into the search box, and browse the resulting page. To give you an example of what you might find, I did a search for 1682, the year my 8 x great grandmother, Elizabeth Holmes was born in Rolleston, Nottinghamshire. The page for that year includes a few interesting entries.
- March 11 – Chelsea hospital for soldiers is founded in England.
- September 14 – Bishop Gore School in Swansea, Wales is founded.
- October 27 – The city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is founded by William Penn.
- October 31 – The city of Bideford, England two men and one woman were some of the last to be executed for witchcraft in England. They were accused of speaking in unknown languages as well as practicing knowledge beyond their natural abilities, and acting in peculiar manners. The woman, Guenevere Damascus, as well as her lover (name unknown) and their spiritual mentor were burned at the stake.
The latter entry tells me it was still quite a brutal and superstitious society, but the first two hint that it was becoming more enlightened. The third entry is interesting because it shows that even at that early date, the New World was growing and thriving.
While none of these incidents directly affected my grandmother they were, in a small way, indicative of the way her society functioned and what it was becoming.