All right, you've been researching your family history and uncovering information on your ancestors from one, two or three generations back...maybe even more.
You have their names, dates, and hometowns, but now what? What was their life like? How did they live? Where did they do they shopping? What did a loaf of bread cost, or a pair of shoes?
Of course, the real details will come from personal records...journals, family bibles, house accounts, wills and estate records, and so on. But you can also get a feel for day-to-day living from several sources, including:
This is just an image, folks. Click on the text link to get to the real thing
The Inflation Calculator from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows the value of a dollar in current terms, going back to 1913.
For an even broader perspective on daily finances, a site called Measuring Worth shows how the cost of living and the value of money has changed over decades, generations, and centuries. There are a lot of different data soruces here, and careful explanations of how to use (and not use) the data...take a look at this comparative record of gold prices from 1257-2008.
This collection of Historic Prices in Morris County, NJ (1900-2009) shows prices of goods advertised in the local newspaper, and how they changed over the decades.
If you (well, your ancestors, actually) were heading west in the mid-1800's, here's a detailed breakout of the costs of provisions for the Oregon Trail. The trip west could easily take six months, and require close to 2,000 pounds of cargo costing about $1,000.
From one of my new favorite online resources, Hathi Trust, here's some typical diner prices from 1910.
The Home Economics Archive -- Research, Tradition and History (HEARTH) is exactly what it sounds like, a digital collection at Cornell covering daily life and keeping a home during the years 1850 to 1925.
A good window on the life of new arrivals in the US can be found at Harvard University's Immigration Collection. Some beautiful materials here, both text and visual.
You can also learn a good deal from historical maps, like these detailed topographical maps covering much of the east part of the US.
And of course, you can get one of the most detailed views of daily life from the local newspapers of a given time and place. Check out the massive collection at NewspaperArchive.com, look into Google News Archives, and if you want to explore overseas, here's a terrific site for free international newspaper archives.
Visit the main page of Free Genealogy Tools for more, umm, free genealogical tools.
And don't forget to also check for your family history at Ancestry.com a subscription database, and one of the most powerful research tools available for looking into family roots.