A great way to get a perspective on your ancestor's time and place is to read an issue or two of their hometown paper while you are searching for that obituary. In addition to the national news, there will be local news.
Reading the paper will give you a history lesson in microcosm and may make you aware of things you never learned in history class. It might give you an entirely different viewpoint on your ancestor as well.
And being familiar with the newspaper's layout and general style never hurt either.