Animals in family history

We have a new dog… it’s the first time I’ve ever had a pet dog… It’s technically my daughter’s but in practice it’s our family dog, so we’ll all be learning what to do!

I had my family history writing group this afternoon so it seemed an idea to talk about animals and how they feature in our lives, and how they would have featured in the lives of our ancestors. I always give out some notes and this is what I handed round today – along with some scones, clotted cream and jam:

Family history writing group

Last time we met we were thinking about summer – summers of our own early lives, or summer events which were special during our lives. We also thought about our ancestors and what summer might have meant to them. Today we’re thinking about animals – in our own lives or in our family’s lives. Most of us have animals as pets, but there are still animals used in various ways for work.

  • on farms as stock or working like dogs and cats
  • in the services – police dogs, rescue dogs, fire service dogs, customs and excise, sniffer dogs etc
  • in sport such as racing dogs/pigeons/horses
  • in other roles – guide animals, companion animals, therapy animals

In the past animals would have been ‘used’ rather than being part of a household as a pet

  • dogs would have been used as guard dogs, as ratters, as protection and cats would have been used to keep vermin down
  • horse, ponies and donkeys would be worked as beasts of burden, pulling carts/carriages/guns etc., as a means of transport
  • animals would have been used in “sport” and entertainment – much of which is now banned
  • In rural areas many ordinary people would have had chickens, often a pig,  a donkey/pony, maybe a cow and a couple of sheep
  • Hunting animals would have been for food as well as sport, sometimes using other animals such as dogs and birds of prey
  • birds were used too – homing pigeons which when racing were a sport and in war as carrier pigeons; canaries were kept in coal-mines to detect gas
  • animals were used for the products they could give – whales and other sea mammals for their oil, birds for beautiful feathers, land mammals for their skins, tusks or teeth

Write about your family’s history looking at how animals may have featured in it.

I’ll be interested to hear their stories next time!



  1. david lewis

    By calling it a family dog you have elevated its status and have accepted part responsibility for its care and attention. Hope you can see where this is going. Good luck.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lois

      I have indeed! Thanks… took it to the pub tonight – it was very early so early empty (it’s a doggy pub) and the creature went to sleep as if in just it’s natural environment so hope that bodes well!


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