There is several ways we could go here. One thought that comes to mind is putting yourself in the shoes of the person you are researching. What time frame do they live in? What did they wear, what did they eat, what was their occupation like, what level of technology did they have at that time?
Now, technology is a big word and actually scares alot of people. But "technology of the day" could be a slate and piece of chalk. At school, did they sit on benches, or did they sit at tables, or did they have individual desks? That is part of the technology of the classroom. Technology wasn't always about machines that were run by electricity, and did digital computing.
Technology may have been - what did they use to make the cave paintings, how did they get their goods to market: barge, mule, wagon, on their backs...? What impact did the invention of the wheel have on daily life, or trade, the civilization as a whole? How did the idea of pigment paint come about? Where does your ancestor fit in, in these scenarios?
I'll never forget the day (just maybe the date) when I realized my pet ancestor (that is, my favorite ancestor, not my pet's great grandfather!!!) ...lived during the civil war in America. That meant he had no microwave, he had no electric or gas cooking or heating stove for that matter. He had no car or truck, no electricity of any kind. His life was very organic. Everything that he had or did came from the natural world around him.
What triggered my thinking on all this was a book I came across in the library where I work. I must subconciously have genealogy on my brain all the time. The title was "Historical Statistics of the United States, Colonial Times to 1970". COLONIAL TIMES just jumped right at me! Wow. Now I know that statistics may not be your favorite topic. It's not mine, either. But if you take a lot at the numbers, especially comparisons you begin to get an idea of what life was like 'back in the day.'
Now it's not going to list your ancestor, John Black, and tell you he had this occupation, this amount of education, lived in these areas... But it does tell you is what the trend was. I see that in 1946 we had 485 thousand passengers arriving. By 1970 it was up to 10,039,000. More came from Europe than anywhere else. The least varied from year to year, but often was Africa or Mexico. Typically there were waves from different countries, like the Irish during the potato famine.
What about shifts in occupations? Is this why your ancestor moved to California. Maybe he gave up agriculture and went panning for gold. These are all things you need to keep in mind. Statistics - what can they give to you? They can give you background information; help you see the bigger pictures; help you think OUTSIDE THE BOX.
Happy Ghost Busting!