Other ancestors were on both sides of the Civil War and at least one hung after Bacon's Rebellion. Some followed the Santa Fe Trail and others were part of the Oklahoma Land Rush.
A speaker at a genealogical conference opened her talk with making bread. Just like our ancestors did. Those daily tasks and understanding how they lived is what makes them come to life. How did your fourth great grandmother card wool, spin it, make her family clothes. Have you tried spinning?
Not only does this type of information bring your ancestors to life but how much more interesting would characters be with those details? Historical fiction author James Alexander Thom has an excellent writers' manual: The Art and Craft of Writing Historical Fiction.
Thom discusses going to re-enactments, living in the woods and canoeing rivers just like Lewis and Clark. He suggests that if your character (or ancestor) needs to use a certain tool that you learn how to use that tool.
So how can you do this? Local historical museums, reproduction towns with people "living" the life and those re-enactment groups. There are groups for the Civil War, the Renaissance era and the Wild West. History is all around us if we just open our eyes.
Old postcard of a lady with her spinning wheel.
My spinning wheel.
Re-enactment of the funeral procession following the Gunfight and the O.K. Corral,
125th Anniversary of the Gunfight.