Adding Context – to your ancestors.

What does context mean?

From Oxford languages, context means… “the circumstances that form the setting of an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood.”

Oxford Languages Copyright © 2023 Oxford University Press. All rights reserved.

Within our family tree, we have lists of names, dates and places, so how do we add context to our tree?

The way I look at the tree is, we have the branches but no leaves. Add the leaves and it looks more like a “living tree”. I will use one of my Scottish female ancestors as an example. She is not a direct ancestor. From the example, I have the usual:

  • Name: not much to add unless there are patterns (Scottish naming conventions come to mind. (Discussed another time)
  • Date(s): Birth, Marriage, death – think of history
  • Place(s): Details of the place(s) etc.


Name:    Margaret McGregor NICOL

Dates:     Born: 1855          Married: 1878          Death: 1943

Places:   Various locations in Perthshire and Edinburgh, Scotland

Figure 4. Individual Summary Margaret McGregor NICOL

She had 5 children between 1880 and 1896. One can check to where they were born as it fills in possible gaps between census dates. If there are any gaps between each child it may mean there was a child who died; but not always the case. I usually look at 2 years between each child when I’m looking into the children.

So, what do we now find extra about Margaret?

Maps: Plot locations and if there is an address, we can use our friend Google to check these street addresses. The actual property may still be there!

Location information about the place i.e. parish churches etc. Also, check YouTube. You will be amazed at what you can or may find.

Search for “history” events or other events i.e. weather, health i.e. flu events especially if there appear to be missing children. Always think outside the box.

Missing information – from the Individual Summary check the information.

Information to locate or investigate:

Birth certificate or Baptism date – Is there one or both or nothing has been found.

Census records: 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891, 1901, 1911, 1921 (note the last two records are not listed in the summary) Each census shows a location. HINT, HINT. Also, note who they were living with as this helps with the context. (More on census records later…)

There is a record in 1930-31 listed as residence. Check the details of this and where the source has come from as it may provide further details.

Marriage certificate – locate this and extract the details – check who is listed as the parents and also witness names. You may be surprised who they are.

Death certificate – not so reliable as the information has been provided by a grieving relative or even by someone who didn’t even know the person.

Remember: This Summary has been obtained from my off-site database. It would have most likely come into being from another source. I refer back to my first blog “A New Year Dawns” and what I was mostly doing last year.

Ask oneself, has this record been captured in the checking of source documents and been correctly cited. If not, then there is work to be done. If the records are all sourced and cited then you can move on…

I recommend not going any further until ALL records are sourced and cited. You will save yourself a lot of misery especially if you find out the person is not a relative and shouldn’t be in your tree.


One person within my tree of the 1600+. Just looking at the record gives a lot of information to enable one to add context to this person. When you do this for the entire family and families, a massive amount of detail makes these people come alive.

Add context to your tree and your branches will have leaves.

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