what is the norm?
april 6, 2014
Not everything you hear in genealogy talks is correct, or the norm. There may be a basis for what is said, but it may or may not apply to your family. For instance, not all generations are repeated every 20 years. My paternal line did not marry until in their late 20s or early 30s. Moreover, there may be more than two years between each birth. This became evident when I upgraded Legacy7 to the new Legacy8 which flags every child born later than every two years. Ancestors in my dad’s line often had 3-5 years between births. My sister was a teen when I was born, yet there are no kids between us. There are other differences.
There are times when the military rank of an individual is higher than it actually is on paper. The financial situations may be different than ancestors remember, regardless of the legend, century or location. Some may be more and others may own less. Nevertheless, do not discount the wealth of those who came here in the 1600s. When Robert Cager of St. Mary’s, Maryland, died, his assets were listed in several pages and it took a long time to settle his estate. He had boats, tobacco crops and indentured servants. He also had agricultural crops for trade and for the consumption of his family, including chickens, cattle, goats, hogs, etc. His estate inventory gave an idea of his worth at the time of his death, explained he built boats and farmed, identified to whom he owed money as well as those who owed him money and identified his friends and neighbors.
We lived in town when I was growing up, but we had a cow for milk, buttermilk, butter and cream and chickens. If memory serves me correctly, our chicken thighs and breasts were much smaller than those we have today. It must be all the added chemicals in their diet today. We had bacon and eggs for breakfast and deviled eggs most Sundays with the best tasting fried chicken ever. I can remember the butter churn where I enjoyed churning the butter, for short periods. It tasted much better than butter does now. All of our food tasted better. Daddy always had several hogs, maybe 6-8, and a smokehouse on our property where the pork was cured with salt. Much of our garden produce was eaten but Mother canned some of it for use over the winter, as was the fruit from our orchard. I remember Mother always flavored our food with salt pork and it went in almost everything.
My ancestors must have eaten many high cholesterol products cured in salt and with sugar added to almost everything to add flavor, yet my parents were never heavy nor my grandparents, cousins or friends. We did not have all the modern conveniences we have today so everyone kept busy. Although we had radios, we did not have television until later. We walked to school, to friend’s houses on good days and were driven in inclement weather. We also had chores after school. Mothers who were not fortunate enough to have a housekeeper, were busy washing, cooking, sewing and taking care of children while fathers spent the day in the workplace or ran a farm. My dad worked in Dallas, but he worked in the garden and orchard on summer evenings and the weekend. People those days did not sit around a lot because they were providing a life for the family.
We hear about the fat and salt in our ancestors’ diet, especially if they lived in Texas or the south. However, I believe most people ate as we did unless they lived in a big city. However, our relatives in Dallas, Oklahoma City, etc., lived and ate most of their meals just as we did.
In researching your family history, have you noticed differences between what is considered the norm and what you are find in your research? If you have not, then ask your relatives about their daily lives, food, work habits, canning and meal preparation. Also, check the death certificates to calculate their average age at death. As far back as I have found death certificates, mine lived to be in their 80s and 90s. That is true today except for the few who have lived to be over 100. Check the cause of death. Even though mine ate unhealthy diets by today’s standard, they did live a full life dying in their late 80s and 90s. Calculate their ages when they were married and the years between births.
If you find, as I did, that the norm does not fit your family, then make your own norm. The norm is not all encompassing.
27 BOOKS ADDED TO WEST VIRGINIA COLLECTION: The Genealogy Center just added twenty-seven new volumes to four counties—Calhoun, Doddridge, Harrison and Richie. Volumes include census records from 1850 through 1920, and books on marriages and deaths.
Brenda Kellow has a bachelor's degree in history, teaches, and lectures on genealogy. Before retiring to publish her family’s histories in 2007, Brenda held certification as a Certified Genealogist and as a Certified Genealogical Instructor. Send reunion announcements, books to review, and genealogy queries to: firstname.lastname@example.org.