Sunday, August 21, 2011

Historical Perspective is the Key

One of those new Facebook pages popped up last week, "You know you're from Edgewood if..." The purpose is to post trivia and memories about our little town. I've lived here since 1972, so I thought I had some nice old memories until I read a thread by two ladies who have lived here longer. The ladies both graduated from the 8th grade at our local junior high school (the same one I attended, and that my son now attends). They graduated in the mid-1950s. At that time they had a choice of 5 different high schools they could attend: Puyallup, Fife, Auburn, Sumner, or Federal Way. Today, there is no choice for students, because they all attend Puyallup. The surprising part of learning this is that those 5 high schools are in what today represent 5 different cities and 5 different school districts. The genealogist in me started thinking about that.

We often get stuck in our perception of geographical or political boundaries. Some genealogists would hear that their ancestor attended Edgemont Jr. High and they might assume that meant the person then attended Puyallup High School. But, depending on the time period, they might be making the wrong assumption. Even today I have known many students who have transferred into or out of our school district without moving to a different address. So, the assumption that a student attends a specific school because of where they reside would be incorrect.

The important thing to remember is that we should never assume anything. A successful researcher is one that does background historical research in addition to the records retrieval for their ancestor. To truly understand your ancestor and the record you are looking for, you need to be able to put yourself in a position of understanding the time, the place, and the reason that the record was made. Historical maps, topographical maps, and histories written about a city/county/region should all be consulted as part of your regular research routine.

Need some pointers for schools and yearbooks? http://www.CyndisList.com/schools/