As you explore your family history, it is easy to get caught up in names and dates, but there is far more to your ancestors than just this. Learning something about the geography, history and culture of your ancestors can be helpful for your genealogical research and rewarding in itself. One of the best ways to get to know the culture of your ancestors is through the languages they spoke.
To help readers explore the linguistic heritage of their ancestors, I am starting a new series of posts entitled "Exploring your linguistic heritage". The aim of these posts is to give readers a foundation and new resources to help them come to a more complete understanding of the languages spoken by your ancestors. Language is not only a research tool, but can also be something you are researching.
First, ask yourself what you know about your own linguistic heritage. Did you or anyone else in your family grow up speaking another language? As with all family history, a great place to start is by interviewing your own family members. See what they know about the languages your ancestors spoke. Even if your parents or grandparents don't speak the language they might remember phrases heard around the house or the names of recipes that may offer important clues.
The next step is figuring out where your ancestors lived. You can start with their country of origin, but realize that this is a very imperfect tool for finding out the language they spoke. Almost every country has speakers of other languages. Just because your ancestors are from France does not mean their first language was French. Your ancestors may have spoken German, Flemish, Breton, Basque, Catalan or an immigrant language.
Even if they did speak the most common language in the country, your ancestors might have known it in a form very different from the one you may have learned in school. The differences between dialects can be very pronounced in many countries. If you're ancestors are from Sicily, the language they spoke was probably very different from Standard Italian, different enough that some linguists would consider what they spoke a separate language.
Once you have set the groundwork, you can start to explore this part of your heritage in depth. Please stay tuned for more posts.