As I was searching my family tree the other day, I thought to myself, “Boy, these people don’t seem very interesting.” I had been on my computer for about 6 hours, making steady headway down the ranks of relatives. I found birth, marriage, and death records. I found census returns, military reports, and newspaper articles. Even though I had all these documents, it did not seem to make my ancestors “feel real” to me. I needed more than name, rank, and serial number! I wanted to know how they lived, what they did, how it felt living in their time.

One individual, my great-uncle George William Oxborough, lived in 1930s England. On my search engine, I typed “What was it like in 1930s England?” I found several websites with information on economic conditions and social times. In another search, I looked up occupations of that time. There were many articles that I found useful. I used some of these findings to fill in a “timeline” in my ancestor’s history for each decade of his life. Now I had a visual idea of what it was like to live in my ancestor’s times.

My next step was to get a “picture” of what he would have looked like in the 1930s. I have a photo of George in 1938. If you do not have a photograph, you can search the web for examples of how people dressed in that era. I copied several family portraits and scenes of local neighborhoods into my tree. If you use information from a website, make sure you give them credit for using their photos or documents. You should include a note stating these are only examples, not a real picture of your ancestor.

After completing my search, I like to publish a family history book. I use Print On Demand websites because they are very cost-effective. There is an article on TheArmchairGenealogist that explains POD. I have used sites like and You can order one book or a select quantity. Most have a set price for the first 25 pages. You can add more for an extra cost.

When printed, your family tree book will make your ancestor and his history come to life. You will, in essence, be recreating his life! Anything you add, big or small, will help explain how he lived to others in your family. Your book will be there for years to come for all to enjoy!

I hope this article was useful and helps you in building your family tree. If you have any other ideas on what can make your search “come to life,” please let me know in the comments section.