Economic History and Genealogy

Tonight’s post will be brief. I am lying in a hospital bed alternately dictating into my cell phone and tapping text on its screen. I trust I will be home tomorrow, and feeling better every day thereafter.

As I prefer reading to television, and as I thought to bring my Kindle, I gave been reading two books that have been on my mind of late: Vilhelm Moberg’s The Emigrants and John Kenneth Galbraith’s The Great Crash of 1929.

Neither, of course, is a cheery book. Moberg writes of the privations and famines in Sweden that sparked emigration from that country to North America; Galbraith writes of the crash of 1929, its causes and its aftermath.

Both books, however are important for genealogists. They remind us of the times in which our ancestors lived. Difficulties such as the recurring Swedish crop failures and  periodic speculative market bubbles are what pushed our ancestors to cross great oceans for opportunity, nay even survival.

Even within the United States, events such as the Florida land speculation of the 1920s or the crash of railroad speculation in 1873 caused financial hardships that sometimes made our ancestors itinerant. (Both of these events are briefly described in Galbraith’s book.)

I plan to add to my bag of genealogical tricks a timeline I can set against migration patterns in my research to see if I can learn more about what might have fueled a desire to move west and ever west. This practice, whether or not it leads to specific revelations about particular ancestors, will no doubt prove an important method of putting my research subjects in the context of their times. I am looking forward to it, and to getting out of this bed.

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