For me, “doing” the family tree has never primarily been about finding a link to some famous person, although there is a distant link to Jamie Oliver (an English cook), a possible link to Katherine Parr (last wife of Henry VIII), and, we have been told there is a possible link to Sebastian Coe (a former runner).
I have found that the most “ordinary” people can have the most extraordinary stories. The battles faced on a daily basis for hundreds of years by “commoners” like my ancestors can be an inspiration and give you an insight into the lives of ordinary people over many hundreds of years.
The widow forced to bring up a large family on her own, with the threat of the “workhouse” and no social security available, could be forced to steal to try and feed her family.
The child, who, in the depths of winter, is cold, and scared. He sees the opportunity to steal a large woolen cloth from a seemingly wealthy person to take home to try and provide comfort for himself and his family.
Another child in another area lives close to a farm, the family mustn’t have eaten properly for some time, perhaps surving on scraps of food, possibly donations from extended family, or through poor relief from the established church. (which wasn’t always forthcoming, and often relief given grudgingly, or the family sent away to another area to deal with) The child decides to steal a duck from the farm so the family can have something to eat that day.
Another family moves from one region to another to try and make a better life for their family. Perhaps they will find work? Maybe there are other relatives there, when there aren’t any close by where they are currently living.
One family gets lucky, a son finds a real talent for something, and is able to survive without any assistance from any church, and makes sure that his family do not have to cope with the threat of the workhouse hanging over them, like it hung over his parents.
A daughter in another family marries into a wealthy family, suddenly the family’s fortunes are changed. You find entries in public school records for their children, one or more of their children may have even gone to Oxford or Cambridge university. Two of the sons become vicars, their children and their children’s children may become lawyers and vicars also, one or more of their daughters may end up marrying city types from London.
The naming traditions of another family tell a story of the importance of certain names. The third son should be called Edmund, or Edward. Or the male children of a couple should unusually first be named after the mother’s father, then the father, then the father’s dad. These naming traditions may be passed down for centuries.
When you put all of these stories together, these “ordinary people” could live such different lives, in such different areas at such different times.
You see history unfolding in front of your eyes. The fortunes of families changing – some getting worse, others better. The movement of people not only within countries but also between countries. Large scale emigration over hundreds of years to countries such as the USA, Australia, Canada, South Africa, India, New Zealand, Mexico and many more.
Genealogy is, strictly speaking, a lineage of people, either ancestors, or a line of descent. Whereas, family history is far more rewarding I believe, and, I would suggest, provides a bigger contribution to the story of human history as a whole. You could say family historians are sociologists in their own right, studying societies, groups of families, the interconnections between individuals, their lives, structures, employment, education, interactions with religious, charitable and state organisations etc…
Family history is a worthwhile endeavour to catalogue the extraordinary lives of ordinary people. And, to be quite honest, i’m glad that I descend from ordinary people.
Ordinary people contribute so much to our heritage, and through our ancestors lives, family historians contribute just as much to a society as, say, a sociologist, an artist or a scientist.