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    Saturday
    Mar292014

    How Did Historical Turning Points Shape Your Ancestors’ Lives?

    Your family has lived through a variety of historical turning points. But if you’re like many genealogists who want to turn their research into a family history, you don’t think about your ancestors in relation to those pivotal moments in history.

    Image courtesy of the Kheel Center at Cornell University

    Leland Meitzler recently brought this to mind when he posted a piece on the family Roots Publishing GenealogyBlog titled The 1911 New York Triangle Shirtwaist Fire linking to a longer piece in Smithsonian Magazine titled Triangle: The Fire That Changed America. The fire killed 146 workers in a Manhattan sweatshop and was for 90 years New York’s deadliest workplace disaster. The Triangle Fire had consequences that went far beyond the disaster itself. Author David Van Drehle observed, “The Triangle fire catalyzed reforms in New York that spread nationwide” to increase factory safety and protect workers. FDR’s Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins, the first woman to serve in a president’s cabinet “…pointed to that day as the birth of the New Deal.”

    If you had ancestors who lived in the New York City area, who worked in the garment trade, or indeed in any kind of manufacturing, who were interested in workers’ rights or union organizing, who were concerned with the kinds of political reforms that characterized the progressive politics of the era, they might have been effected by the fire and certainly would have been talking about it. What might they have thought or felt about what happened at the Triangle Factory? Might it have led them to have led them to take any sort of action?

    Taking some time to think about how the lives of your ancestors could have been touched by such a dramatic event might give you some interesting insights into who they were.

    Think about other historical turning points and how your ancestors’ lives might have been changed by them?

    For some moments in history to consider you might want to look at some of the excellent historical timelines available online:

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