By Ann Lemaster-Applegate
Have you ever stopped to think what life was really like for our ancestors? Often we
genealogists get so involved in the search for another name or date to add to our
tree that we forget it is really a person we are researching and not just statistics.
This person actually lived at one time, they had a family to raise and daily routines
and chores to get done.
Join me while I take a stroll into yesteryear...
Settling In: When our ancestors made their journey to "Old Caintucky" they
left behind the home that had already been established to come to a wilderness. It was
not easy for them to move as it is for us today. There were no trucks or u-hauls to carry
belongings and no house waiting to be called home. In some instances, the husband would set
out to find the perfect location for his family. It could be months or even a year
before he had his family join him. Land had to be cleared and trees had to be chopped
in order to build a cabin and barn. Settlers chose those areas near streams or a spring in order
to have a supply of water for drinking, bathing, and washing clothes. Water was also needed
Food: Our ancestors could not run down to the corner market to pick up a few
items every now and then. They had to be self sufficient in obtaining food. In the summer and
early fall months, vegetables from the garden could be enjoyed as well as several varieties
of wild berries. Hunting was a necessity in order to have meat. Squirrel, rabbit, deer and bear
were common. Pork came from wild hogs and boars. Meat was salted and cured to provide meat in
Marriages: Since families tended to settle in areas close to each other and neighbors
were sometimes several miles apart, it is no wonder our ancestors sometimes married their own cousins.
It was convenient to marry those closest to you. Sometimes marriages were arranged out of convenience
rather than love. If a farmer had only daughters, he needed strong sons in law to help work his land.
Weddings usually took place at the home of the bride's parents with a huge meal for family and friends to
Births: Doctors in these days were few and far between. When a woman realized she was in the
family way, she had only herself and perhaps some female family members to take care of her. There were no
prenatal vitamins or monthly checkups. Babies were born at home with the assistance of a midwife or a female
family member. The husband did not stay in the room as is so common today. Labor was a long painful event with
no medications to ease the pain and no modern technology to help in case of an emergency.
It was common for mother and child to die in the process of delivery or shortly after due to complications.
Deaths: In the days before funeral directors were available to embalm, families took care of their
own. The deceased was "laid out" by members of the family. Sometimes neighbors would gather in to help also.
The "laying out" consisted of bathing, dressing and grooming the deceased. This process began immediately
as there was no time to waste and was most usually done by the females. Herbs with strong odors and sometimes wild
onions were crushed and tied up in muslin cloth and placed near the body to discourage flies and other insects.
Men were responsible for the making of a coffin and digging the grave. A minister was sent after and if one was not
available, last rites were given by family or neighbors. Visitation and funeral were one and the same and most
usually took place the day after the death. In the long hot summer months, it was not unusual for death and burial to
occur on the same day.
Daily Chores: Laundry is not one of my favorite chores. But can you imagine not having a washer or dryer
or a local laundromat to wash our clothing? Our ancestors, obviously, did not have these conveniences. Doing laundry
was a task that required water being carried from the creek and places in a large pot or tub for heating over an open fire.
More water had to be carried to cool the boiling water. Before washboards, clothing was scrubbed on large rocks. All items
had to be wrung out by hand and then hung over a clothes line to dry.
These descriptions are but a few of the many differences between life in "yesteryear" and today. I could go on and on but
space and time prevents this.
Next time you are doing research, I encourage each of you to stop for a second, let your imagination take you back into the
time period for that particular ancestor. Make notes on how they might have lived and add this to your research file. This will
provide interesting text to supplement your facts and data. Just make sure iy is well understood to others that might read your
material. This is a commentary from you and is not intended as gospel.