Family history, to me, is so very important. I've been working on mine, off and on, for over twenty years and have been able to acquire some wonderful information on the bloodline that runs through my veins.
The thing is, genealogy is so much more than names and dates...and as cool as those DNA tests are, it's also more than that.
So today's post is part history and part family history: a blending of the two. And one way to show how you can place your ancestors in their time.
Remember: our family history is American history.
Remember: our family history is American history.
I hope you enjoy it.
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Let's begin with a small background bit about the Henry Ford Museum, from where the kitchens are located:
The front façade of the Henry
Ford Museum has some
familiarity to it, now doesn't it?
It has so many historical objects inside that I believe it can easily rival the Smithsonian. According to the web site: "Henry Ford (the man) had collected a slice of the American past unmatched in size and scope."
I don't know exactly how many items are displayed inside the museum, but I know it's in the tens of thousands. And we're not even including the 300 acres of historic Greenfield Village right next door!
But of all the items on display inside the Henry Ford Museum, there are two sections I always enjoy visiting and never leave before seeing:
the first one is the "With Liberty and Justice For All" exhibit (which I wrote about pretty extensively HERE), and the second one is the "Kitchens Through Time" collection, of which is what today's post is based around. "Kitchens Through Time" is an exhibit of, well, four kitchens - one from the later part of the 1700s, one from the 1840s, one from the 1890s, and one from the 1930s - all back to back where the corners meet to form a circle, allowing the viewer to easily see the noticeable changes over a 200+ year period at a few step glance.
Now, I've searched far and wide to find information about this set up - the 'history' behind the history - to no avail. All that I have found is that it is a display to show that kitchens have changed little in the basic design in over two hundred years. That's it. I can't tell you any more about this exhibit at this time.
So I decided to sort of make these vestiges of kitchens past come alive in my own personal way - - - by utilizing a few stories of my ancestors. Particularly, to some extent, my female ancestors. After all, it is Women's history month. And I love the fact that my ancestors have been on this land since 1710, so I can easily cover each era. With little blurbs 'neath each kitchen photograph, I've tried to give a snippet of four of my ancestor's lives - sort of like filling in that dash carved in between the birth and death years on a tombstone.
Let us begin in the 1700s, right around the earlier days of our nation's birth:
Here is a depiction of a late 1700s kitchen...
Yes, they were Quakers.
"In the kitchen a glowing bed of red-hot coals, banked the night before, still burned on the hearth, streaks of sunlight gleamed through the eastern windows. Soft reflections shone from the pewter porringers hanging on the dresser; a sunbeam flecked with bright light the brass candlesticks set on the mantel over the hearth.
Drawing the bowls up to the table, Jane placed her father Jonathan's chair at one end and her mother Mary's at the other. Jane and her younger siblings, Susannah (who would become my 4th great grandmother one day), Edward, and Nathan, took their porringers and wooden bowls from the dresser and stood in their places at the table. From the steaming kettle on the hearth, their mother Mary dished up the corn meal mush, or hasty pudding, and added a large thin johnny cake, which was browned in the skillet. The children and their mother folded their hands and bowed their heads as their father leaned over the high back of his chair and asked for blessings on home and family..."
Not much is known of Mary, but I know she and Jonathon were married in 1784 in Richland, Pennsylvania. There is talk that during the Revolutionary War my 5th great grandfather was a Loyalist and trained with the British. Quakers were generally Loyalists, due mainly to their strong beliefs of peace and pacifism (imagine...me, a Patriot, descended from Loyalists!). Because of this military training, Jonathan was removed from the Society of Friends. And because she was his wife, Mary was also removed from the monthly meetings as well. It took them over a year to become accepted back into the Society of Friends again.Jonathan, from what I had read, always dreamed of having "an ideal farm," and set out to find it, and it was right around the later part of 1790, that he and Mary, along with numerous other family members, took advantage of the opportunity of removing themselves to Canada. Arriving at the Niagara, Jonathan's brother, John, saw the swift current of the river and, according to lore, asked, "Does thee think it prudent to venture over, with the beasts and the baggage and the little ones?"
My 5th great grandfather is said to have replied, "We are in the hollow of God's hand. If He willeth it, we shall find safe crossing."
John, at that point, turned westward with his family, eventually settling in Ohio.
Jonathan, however, turned northward and followed the river to a point not too far from Niagara Falls and, using an improvised windlass (a simple hoist worked by a crank used for lifting and lowering), he and his party lowered the heavy oxcarts and guided the beasts and the rest of his party down the steep incline, which can still be seen to this day, though it is now known as Lewiston Hill.
Jonathan and Mary settled on land and farmed for 15 years until 1804 when, quite by accident (we are told), that Jonathan saw a farm that he felt was precisely the one of his dreams. He purchased the 400 acres it sat upon and contently farmed until his death in 1812.
It is unfortunate that I have no information when Mary passed away.
I find it interesting from a personal note that I now portray a farmer in my colonial presentations.
|Farm living is the life for me...the ideal farm?|
To learn more about everyday life on a colonial farm, please click HERE
Here is a depiction of an 1840s kitchen...
During this period William and Mary were living in Upper Canada.
The two were married in 1841, right around the time this style of the kitchen we see in this picture was common. Mary had been previously married to a man named Henry Gillet (back in 1833), who, we have heard, had passed away not too long after.
I have very little information on my 3rd great grandfather, William. He seemed to have disappeared off the face of the earth. But in a rare twist of historical genealogical fate, I actually have more information on his wife. My 3rd great grandma was a midwife. Or, as son, Nelson, put it: "She was the closest thing to a doctor that the wilds of Canada had," for it's been said she learned her medicinal trade from "the local Indians," and treated many of the locals for a variety of ailments. Mary was also present at hundreds of births in her town of East Gwillimbury, as well as being present at a number of her own grandchildren's births, and has been listed as such in the local registries.
I have no death record of Mary nor her husband William, and the last I find her in any document is on the September 1881 birth record of one of her grandsons.
Just two years later, in 1883, the entire Robertshaw clan - siblings, spouses, and children included - moved to the United States and settled in and around Port Huron, Michigan.
Mary was not part of this move, and I am assuming she had died shortly before.
I am still searching for her and her husband. Maybe one day...
|The 1841 marriage record of my 3rd great grandparents|
Now we, again, jump up to another decade, this time to the 1890s in Port Huron, Michigan.
Here is a depiction of an 1890s Kitchen...
During this time, Linnie & Nelson lived in Port Huron, Michigan.
Linnie Raby sailed over to Canada from England when she was in her mid-teens and married Nelson Robertshaw at the tender age of 17 on April 28 in 1875. Her new husband was a lumberman and had spent most of his life in the lumber camps in upper Canada. He was only eight years old when he began working at these camps as a 'stripper' - that is, he would strip off the extra branches of the felled trees with an ax. Nelson used to tell his grandson that he had his first taste of whiskey at the age of nine while working at the lumber camps in the winter months to help keep him warm. After they were married, Linnie joined him at these camps and spent her days mending and washing the men's clothing. I suspect she ended her stay there after they began having children.
At the time of the 1894 Michigan State census - right around the time of this kitchen picture - my 2nd great grandparents had been married for 19 years with a brood of six offspring; they would eventually have nine total by the turn of the 20th century. It was in the various 1890s directories that Nelson begun to list himself as a carpenter and had built homes in and around the Port Huron area. While Linnie remained home to care for their kids, Nelson would be gone for weeks on end, for many of his jobs took him miles from his family, and walking the distance back and forth daily was simply not reasonable to do.
My great great grandparents eventually moved to Detroit where they lived out the rest of their lives living with their eldest daughter and her husband and kids.
Both passed away in the 1930s.
Now we move out of the 19th century and into the 20th century; to a time when my own mother was alive, though still in her pre-teens. As we have followed my maternal line this entire time, we shall continue to do so here and meet the granddaughter of Nelson and Linnie from the 1890s picture: my mother's mother, Pearl.
|Here is a depiction of a 1930s kitchen...|
My mother, front left, and
her three sisters in 1936.
In 1925, Pearl married Bert, a man who was quite the handyman and could do a little of everything. He was also a World War 1 veteran. I was told he was a very smart man and that there was nothing he couldn't do. Unfortunately, he worked mostly odd jobs, and to help make extra pennies during this time of the Great Depression, my grandmother would put her girls to bed then head out and sell apples on the street.
My mother told us how on one particular 1930s Christmas she and her sisters received a doll and carriage for their gift: two got the doll and the other two got the carriage, In this way all four would be forced to play together.
I can just imagine youngsters today receiving such a gift, eh?
The family usually rented houses and, until shortly before she passed away, my mother could still recite each address she lived at.
In a rare occurrence for the time, Bert and Pearl ended up divorced and, by 1938, she had remarried, this time to a man named Ray, and the two had two kids to add to Pearl's four.
By the time the 1950s had rolled around, no one had heard from Bert in years - it was said he moved to California, so I never had the pleasure of meeting my biological maternal grandfather (though my father's father more than made up for that!).
And there you have it. Four kitchens - four family history stories. It is a unique way of bringing the objects in a museum to life, don't you think? But when it comes to history, this sort of thought is the norm for me, for the items we see as we walk through the hallowed halls of history were once a part of someone's everyday life, just as our own kitchens are to us today.
Hmmm........I wonder if a kitchen like mine (or should I say my wife's) will one day be shown in the same manner 150+ years from now?
Well then, let's move ahead from the 1930s to the early 21st century.
No, this is not in the Henry Ford Museum. It belongs to my wife. But if they pay us enough, we'll sell it to them (lol).
|Here is an actual (not a depiction) of an early 21st Century Kitchen...|
And on the left in front of the door our diner booth can be seen.
|Early 21st century kitchen~|
So, just as I wrote a little on my ancestors, I will tell you a little about us (as of 2021):
250 years of history right in this photo:
The Plympton House - 18th century
The far background - 21st century
Patty - 21st century
Ken - 18th century
Oh what fun we do have together!
We both love to reenact (duh!), though Patty will agree I love it more, and most of our time-travel excursions are documented right here on Passion for the Past. Patty also spins on a spinning wheel, then will dye the wool and either crochet or knit it into something useful. That's her passion. We also consider ourselves traditionalists, which can be pretty difficult in a very non-traditional society.
Why, we love them most of all.
Oh! And we have a dog named Paul Anka.
Since we are both still alive, and hopefully will be for decades to come, I will not go any further about our lives. But I must say, I love the idea that Patty and I can add a bit of our own family story to my long blood-line of a family tree noted here...and even include our grandchildren.
Don't you just love family history?
So now we have traveled through about 250 years worth of kitchens, all the while visiting my ancestors in doing so. I hope you enjoyed it. I believe my ancestors did.
Until next time, see you in time.
If you are interested in learning about running a Colonial kitchen, please click HERE
If you are interested in learning about running a Victorian kitchen, please click HERE
If you are interested in learning about eating historically at an 1850s tavern, click HERE
If you are interested in learning about the varieties of historic food, click HERE
To learn more about everyday life in colonial times, please click HERE
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