Sunday, September 30, 2012

That Farming Life

I am always on the lookout for any kind of materials that might shed light on how my ancestors lived.  Sometimes we family tree researches get lost in the 'name hunt'.  It's kind of like a game of 'my tree is bigger than your tree'.  The only problem with this is, when you are done, all you have is a list of names.  Think about all those trees on Rootsweb with 100,000 or more people in them.  I am always amused with the note, which almost always accompanies these trees, attached to the tree description, "I have no further information on any of the individuals listed in this tree."  Really?  No other information?  How sad!

If you think about a family tree, or at least a pedigree chart, each of the names on that list had a genetic part in who you are.  I always like to think there is a whisper of each of those individuals in me.  They all have played a part in who I am.  Having said that, I want to get to know these people.  How did they live?  Where did they live?  Why did they do what they did?  And the list of questions goes on and on.
Sometimes it is not an easy task to reconstruct the lives of our ancestors.  The Web has made it a little easier.  I usually start by Googling my ancestors and the places they lived.  You would be amazed at the number of hits you can get.  From there, I'll usually start weeding out the list to things that can give me the most information.  More often than not, I only can access an indirect notion of how my ancestors lived.  Most of 'my people' were hardscrabble farmers barely getting by.  They didn't leave much direct evidence of their existence.  However, they did leave mountains of indirect evidence.  Think about it - our ancestors were all part of society.  They were all part of the story we call history.

So, as I mentioned at the start of this post, I am always on the lookout for any kind of material that sheds light on how my ancestors lived.  This means I frequent auction houses, antique shops, thrift shops, and the like, looking for anything that shows how individuals lived, worked, or played once upon a time.  Recently I was able to purchase a bound collection of The American Agriculturist for the Farm, Garden, and Household comprising the entire year of 1869.  This was a newsletter edited by Orange Judd (pictured at right).  Click on his picture to open a short biographical for him located at Wikipedia.

The circulation for his paper was over 100,000 by 1864, so can I say for sure my ancestors read his paper?  Of course not.  I'm not even sure my ancestors could read.  However, I can say the majority of my ancestors were farming in 1869.  So Mr. Judd's newspaper can provide valuable insight as to how my ancestors might have been living from a source that was contemporary to my ancestor's lives.  What a deal!

So the next few posts will be inspired by the material contained in these papers.  I'll start with a little nugget gleaned from the January 1869 edition.  The editor states, "Dry wood is an excellent means of grace in a household, promoting good temper and cheerfulness."
So check back for my next post as we start to explore farming life in 1869...


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Looking Back

I can’t believe it has been so long since my last post!  Time just seems to melt away – yet nothing seems to get done.  I wonder if our ancestors had the same problem?  Quite often throughout the day I will think “Oh that would make a good blog post” or “Oh I should research that for the blog”, but it usually stops at that.  Nothing comes out.  I read somewhere that you should just start writing and the story would appear, so this is my attempt at this exercise.

I have noticed that the older I get the more my mind tends to wander back in time during idle moments, especially with the change in seasons.  I’m not sure why the seasonal change causes this, but this year my backward glances have been particularly emotional.  Not only do I think back in my past but I think back to my parents and their parents too.  Maybe I have been delving too deeply in the whispers of the past.  I really cannot say.

One thing I’m sure about, the past was full of hope for the future and regret for paths not taken just like it is today.  And maybe I am missing those individuals in my life who are no longer with us, but little, seemingly insignificant things, can create such evocative feelings and a flood of memories.  A great example of this is walking outside in the autumn.  The crunch of leaves under my feet immediately takes me back to my childhood.  I remember those crisp fall afternoons spent raking great mountains of brightly colored leaves and the sheer joy of diving headfirst into the pile!  If I close my eyes, I swear I can smell the moldering leaves even now.  The reds, oranges, and yellows of the leaves look as bright in my mind’s eye as they did so many long years ago on that crisp autumn afternoon.

Another leaf that made me come to a full stop was on  You know the leaves I am talking about, those little green, wiggly leaves that tell you Ancestry has found something about ‘your’ ancestors.  I noticed a leaf doing a dance over my grandmother’s name announcing that Ancestry had found something.  When I clicked on the leaf it took me to FindAGrave and a digital picture of my grandmother’s headstone.  Complete stop.  Queue the flood of memories.

It seems only yesterday that we laid her to rest.  Has it really been 14 years?  I was blessed to have my grandmother in my life for 34 years.  My mind quietly ticked away random memories, my memories, of my grandmother.  But there is more.  I scanned around my living room and there she was, looking back at me through the photographs I had taken over the years.  I also had many other photographs of her, some taken long before I was born when the twentieth century was young and so was she.

There was so much more to say than that cold piece of marble could say.  I just had to upload a photo of grandma when she was in her early teens.  There – now you can see a young woman full of excitement at what the future might bring (you can click on her picture to see the Find A Grave listing - assuming I got the link right...).  Of course the future also brought suffering, but that is another chapter.  Look into her eyes and you see the hope for the future.  I wonder what she was thinking when the photographer said “steady, please” or whatever other phrase he used.  I cannot say why this picture of her creates such emotion for me.  It just does...