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A Genealogist In The Archives: Researching How Your Ancestors Were Entertained

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Researching How Your Ancestors Were Entertained

As genealogists we collect records, photographs and stories about our ancestors lives. These normally include birth, death and marriage records. The collection could include census records, deed records, court records and tax records. But have you ever thought about what your ancestor's did for entertainment?

Grand Ole Opry Ticket and Journaling from Evelyn Ellis Scrapbook, Houston County, TN. Archives

Our ancestor's worked hard and they also took time out to play and entertain themselves. Depending on their financial abilities and what was available to them in the areas where they lived, there could be all kinds of different entertainment opportunities.

Maybe they had a theater in the area, one that had a great production of Hamlet. Maybe there was a movie theater that showed the latest silent film or Jimmy Stewart movie. Going to the theater or the movies was an event, maybe your ancestor wrote about it in their diary or pasted the handbill in their scrapbook.

Erin Theater Handbill, ca. 1958, Houston County, TN. Archives

Did you ancestor go to the fair? Many communities had an annual Agricultural Fair where our ancestors could have entered homemade baked goods, quilts or other items for judging. Also, at these fairs, would be a carnival type atmosphere that would include rides, games and sideshows. The fair would sometimes be the highlight of the year and whole families would attend. Maybe our ancestors were awarded 1st, 2nd and 3rd place ribbons for their entries and we have these ribbons in our genealogical records collections.

In many towns, the circus would make a visit bringing their animals, big tent shows, games and sideshows. This would have been a big event not only for the town but also for the entire family.

Newspaper Clipping of "A Class Visit to an Elephant", Houston County, TN. Archives

So, where can records be found about our ancestors and the entertainment events they may have attended? First and foremost, in our own records collections. Maybe those blue ribbons are among the records in that box we got from Grandma. Maybe our ancestors wrote about their entertainment experiences in their diaries or wrote about them in letters to friends and family. Paying close attention to diaries and correspondence, even transcribing these records could provide great information about their experiences.

Documenting our ancestor's birth, marriage and death dates is important. But documenting our ancestor's entertainment experiences is also important to add to their life story. Don't overlook these unique records and information.



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