Beyond Dates And Names: Where To Find Stories About Your Ancestors’ Lives

An old open journal with an old photograph and flowers placed on it

People take an interest in family history research for many reasons, but for the majority, it’s about learning more about one’s ancestors. Now naturally, knowing your ancestor’s name or when they were born, married, and died holds little importance if you really think about it; what really matters is the kind of lives they led and the stories they’ve left behind to inspire you.

This is one problem that many rookie researchers face when they begin genealogy research. We tend to get too focused on quantitative facts like dates, ages, and names; these are essential in their own right, but you have to decipher them to find stories that actually matter.

There are also plenty of other genealogy resources that may hold relevant details about your ancestors’ lives. You just have to know where to look and how.

Here’s where to look for great ancestors’ stories.

Talk To Your Oldest Living Relatives

If you’re looking for stories, you’ll be surprised to find some very eager storytellers within your family. Whether it’s close relatives or some distant ones that you’ve only discovered through family tree research, get in touch with them, and ask them what their lives were like and the moments they remember the most.

Also, check the family tree to see who they’re closely related to, and ask them about the people who’re no longer alive but grew up around the same time and place as them. Make sure you take a voice recorder, and you can use the recordings later to put together impactful family stories.

Scour The Newspapers

You don’t have to be descended from famous people to find your family’s history in newspapers; regular people are also found in certain newspapers.

Of course, you’re not likely to find your ancestors in big main-scale newspapers, but there’s a fair chance that you’ll find them in local newspapers that were only distributed town-wide or even in society papers.

From stories about the local town fair to interesting snippets of town gossip, there are a lot of interesting stories you can find in newspapers.

Examine The Photographs More Closely


Pictures are worth a thousand words, so if you’re looking for stories, it’s time to revisit the old photo albums.

You may find photographs of events that are some pretty clear stories in themselves, but you may also find other random photos that may be telling a story of their own—you just have to listen closely.

For instance, do you see an ancestor’s fashion choices change drastically over a few years? Weigh different possibilities to see why that may have happened—there might be a great story there. For instance, maybe they married into money, or they could have gone bankrupt. Or you can find clues in the background, such as the house or car they’re standing in front of. Is it the same house every time? If it is, it may have belonged to a close relative.

Read Their Diaries, Letters, And Scrapbooks

Two people looking through old letters

Dairies and letters are one of our favorite resources for stories because they typically have the most mundane everyday details that you’ll never find anywhere else.

You’re really lucky if you have an ancestor that liked journaling religiously because not only is their dairy likely to hold tons of details about themselves, but there’s a high chance they’ve also described the personalities and lives of other close relatives in your family tree! It’s like getting a first-hand recount of all the family tea—just a few decades too late.

Think About the Details You Find in The Census Data

One of the great things about census records is that they started getting more detailed as the decades rolled by. So, while you only find a few mundane facts and statistics in the first few censuses, the ones that come later have a lot more details; you just have to read between the lines.

For instance, consider the people living in the household. Ask yourself whether it all adds up. Are there people there who shouldn’t be in that particular household? If yes, consider all the possible stories that explain their presence.

Look For Answers for the “Whys” Rather Than Just for the “Whats”

An old photo of people sitting on the ground

If you’re looking for stories about your ancestors, you may have to change your entire approach toward genealogy research. Start asking questions that start with “why” or “how” instead of “what” and “where.” The former will lead to facts and stats, while the latter will lead to stories and explanations.

For instance, if you know your ancestor migrated, consider going beyond their migration dates and places—think about why they may have migrated. You might want to consider the historical context for the period or maybe look into their financial records.


When you start looking for stories, and not just facts, you’ll find it easier to sustain your interest in genealogical research. Also, if you need help with this, consider reaching out to us at DavisDNA And Family Research.

We offer traditional genealogy services and can help you find family history through genealogy, including inspiring stories from your ancestors.

Check it all out!