I love history. I have always been fascinated by the journeys of people and civilizations, it was always one of my favorite subjects in school, and I think it's a large part of why I love researching family trees.
History matters - in life in general, but especially to family historians. You need to be able to put your family into the greater context - maybe not of the world, maybe not of the human race, but into the context of when and where they lived. People don't just get born, get married, have kids, and die - they live their lives in between those dates, and the choices they make regarding their lives are influenced by what's going on in the world around them.
I was recently struck again by this assertion as I've been delving into my Stutzmann line - my oh so very staunchly German line that turns out to not be oh so very German. My 4x great grandfather, Peter Stutzmann, was born in Grossbockenheim, Germany in 1812. He was German - but his paternal line was Swiss. His wife, my 4x great grandmother, was Luise Charlotte Schlick - she was born in Grossbockenheim in 1819. Her mother was Ottilia Elisabetha D'Huy, They were both German, but Ottilia's paternal line was French Huguenot. Both my 4x great grandparents were born in Grossbockenheim. Both of their families lived there for generations before them. Both of them had ancestors who came from another place - Switzerland and France. Both of their families immigrated to the Rhineland-Palatinate region of Germany due to the same reason: the Thirty Years War.
The Thirty Years' War was fought across Europe between 1618-1648 and was one of the longest and most destructive conflicts in human history, resulting in the death of almost 8 million people due to not only military conflict but from violence, famine and disease. It began as a religious war between Catholics and Protestants, although it ended up becoming a war between states and leaders in power, and the Palatinate was smack-dab in the middle of it, the meeting point between invading Catholic forces and defending Protestant armies. In fact, part of the war is known as the Palatinate campaign, between 1620-1622. Caught in the middle were the everyday people who lived in the area, as the war devastated the German landscape around the Rhine River region, and whole towns were wiped out. In fact, the Dhuy family, who had moved to Germany to escape religious persecution in France, probably fled back to France and Amsterdam due to the war, as they are found in Amsterdam in 1636. When the war ended, German rulers were desperate to rebuild, and so they invited foreigners in to live: if you help rebuild, regrow, and repopulate this area, you can live here.
My Swiss Stutzmans, living in a poor Swiss economy, desperate for a way to support themselves and their families, probably came to the region lured by the promise of land and work. My French Dhuys were probably lured not only by the promise of land but by the promise once again of a Protestant safe haven. From two different areas of Europe, drawn by two different dreams, they ended up in the same place, the Duys there by the 1650s and the Stutzmanns by the 1680s. If not for the terrible consequences of the Thirty Years' War on the German population and landscape, my Stutzmans might have stayed in Switzerland, or followed other branches of their family to Alsace, France. My Dhuys might have stayed in Amsterdam, or hopped over to a closer Protestant safe haven - England. And my ancestors might have never met. As it was, they both ended up in Germany, in a tiny village in the Rhineland-Palatinate called Grossbockenheim, where generations later a Stutzmann descendant, Peter, met and married a Dhuy descendant, Charlotte, and started a family, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Family history. ;)
I, by no means, do justice to the history of the Thirty Years' War here. For more information, you can visit the Wikipedia entry here. For even more information, please find a book, a more academic website or person who has studied the history of that war.