"Why do I have to learn history, all the dates and places, I'll never use it anyway".
How many of us have said this when we were going to school? For the past four years that I have been researching my family history I have found that learning more about the times that my ancestors lived in helps me to know and understand their lives, beliefs, economic and political conditions of the time and the decisions they made to immigrate and migrate from one place to another. I have often found myself searching for someone and getting sidetracked by the stories of their daily lives. I imagine that all of them had dreams of a better life for their children and hope for future generations in their new homes.
I have found that a lot of different subjects I learned in grade school and thought I would never use I am putting to good use with my genealogy research. First of all, I am learning more about history than I ever imagined, but through fresh eyes, my ancestors' eyes. I have learned about the religious persecution in England that forced my ancestors to risk their lives crossing the Atlantic in the early 1600's via Leiden, Holland. My research has taken me to Plymouth Colony, where I learned about the hardships of the colonists, the harsh elements, disease and living in fear of native attacks. My Acadian and French-Canadian ancestors who chose to go to the New World, with the military and as colonists to explore and expand the realm of the King of France. My German ancestors escaped their war-torn homelands in the 1700's, arriving in New York and Pennsylvania. My Scottish ancestors lived on the Borders which were going through much change, religious and political unrest when they immigrated. I learned a lot about the history of Scotland to better understand what was going on in their lives and why they left. Some of my Irish immigrant ancestors left before the famine, seeking employment opportunities in North America, some endured the famine and left a generation later.
I am also learning a lot more geography with my genealogy research, searching Google maps for ancestral homes, comparing maps from different times and noting the changes in territorial lines, borders, etc. I have found some family that appear to have moved from state to state only to find that the borders have changed, not their residences. Mathematics is used every day in my research as well, working with the censuses, charts, dates etc. One subject that I find I can't do without is English Grammar, I use it everyday in my blogs. I confess that I am not the most creative writer but I do want my posts to be easy to read, I try to write in a way that if my grandson or granddaughter reads my posts, they will understand them.
Science also plays a role in my research, learning about the diseases and how they were spread, what medicinal herbs they used to treat them, the impact of the weather on their lives, what crops they grew, their daily diets. I am learning different traditional recipes and old-world techniques. I even made sourdough starter from wild yeast spores in the flour and air, like they used to do before packaged yeast was readily available, I was successful first try! I'm making more food from scratch, like pasta and noodles, soda crackers, etc. I never use prepackaged mixes for baking anyway, I've always baked from scratch. I think there are several advantages in practising the old way of doing things, you keep old skills alive to pass down to future generations and preserve your heritage, and instill a sense of self-sufficiency that is priceless. Our ancestors didn't run to the corner store to get their bread, they had the ingredients to make their own so there was no need. If great-great-grandma was making chicken soup, she made fresh noodles from an egg and a handful of flour.
When you grow your own vegetables, as well as preserving and practising skills that your ancestors depended on for survival, you know where the food is from, you control the ingredients, no preservatives or artificial ingredients, so the food is healthier, fresher and also tastes better as well as being more economical. I have been growing my vegetable gardens the old-fashioned way for a couple of years, instead of using a modern roto-tiller to till the soil in the spring, I have used just a pitch fork to loosen and turn the soil over in the spring. I have found that newer is not always better, I can get better results, more consistent depth, more thoroughly worked up, deeper than if a tiller was used and the worms aren't chopped up. It may take longer but my garden isn't very big, about 15' x 36', so I can get it done in a few days and it is great exercise too. I have had a small herb garden for years, chives, oregano, sage, garlic, a few varieties of thyme, catnip and even medicinal herbs like yarrow and feverfew, I have migraines and the tea really works. I am learning about their daily lives and am trying to learn more about the native foods they ate and the different ways they prepared and preserved their produce for winter.
I am learning to use different cooking implements and how to cook over an open fire with a Dutch oven, not a casserole kind like the modern ones, a cast-iron one that was made for baking over an open fire. So far I've baked a shortcake and a blueberry pie successfully in it. I tried to bake a chocolate cake but the Dutch oven was too close to the fire and the bottom was burnt, but hubby ate it anyway, next time I'll get it right. I still haven't made any cornbread in my vintage cast iron corncob pans, I'll try that next.
Ancestral Notes by Earline Hines Bradt is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 Canada License.