I started doing skeletal reconstructions of family histories based the kind of information on Family Group Sheets, verifying it as much as possible from Census records. Even that little helps a great deal in turning dry lists of names into real people. It also helps to know whether brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, cousins and grandparents were living or dead, near or far.
I’ve made some (to me) fascinating discoveries, and expect to make more as I broaden my search beyond just the census records and shared pedigrees. Do you have any particular suggestions for a good next step, Ardis?
There are ways to get to know your ancestors as real people, as more than just names on the page, even if they didn’t leave diaries and other personal papers, even if they didn’t hold the kind of rank that makes historians write biographies about them. You won’t know them as well as if they had recorded their personal thoughts on paper, but you can still flesh out the genealogical skeleton and make those dry old bones dance.