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Recipes and genealogy

Posted by Elisabeth Doucett on September 30th, 2016

60s-vintage-metal-recipes-box-lot-of-hand-written-typed-recipe-cards-laurel-leaf-farm-item-no-u2261-4My mother was a “collector” (she didn’t throw very much out) and my genealogy research has benefited from that.  She kept all of my grandmother and great-grandmother’s recipe cards even though she rarely cooked from them.  I never paid much attention to the recipe cards until after my mom passed away and my siblings and I were cleaning out her apartment.  I became the keeper of “all things paper” because of my interest in family history and so the recipe cards came to my house.  As I started to go through the recipes I realized what a wonderful addition they were to a deeper understanding of our family history.

The older recipes from my great-grandmother are a reflection of how different peoples’ lives were 150 years ago.  The recipes were for huge quantities because my great-grandmother lived on a farm and meals served not just the family but all of the farm workers.  Ingredients were very simple (eggs, molasses, flour) because exotic ingredients weren’t easy to find, much less buy.  Many steps were left out of the recipes because in that time period everyone cooked and it was assumed you would just know specific things, like how to sour milk to put in a baking recipe to make the end result lighter.  There were ingredients included that we would turn our noses up at today like lard.  Reading through the recipes was fascinating and it gave me some insight into a person I never met.

My grandmother’s recipes were equally enlightening.  I always knew my grandmother had a terrible sweet tooth (as do I!) but when I went through her recipes, it became even more obvious.  About half of her recipe cards were for rich, fattening desserts (that sound absolutely wonderful).  She and my grandfather loved to entertain and that was equally clear – there were lots and lots of recipes for appetizers and a few for what sound like very enticing cocktails.  My grandmother was an old-time Yankee and her main courses reflected that, being for dishes like fish chowder or boiled dinners.  I knew my grandmother so her recipes were more of an amplification of what I already knew but they were also very intriguing to read through.

I also have my mother’s recipes.  I haven’t gone through them yet.  I know they will be very evocative because they are about the food I ate in my childhood (jello being a key ingredient!) and I’m not quite ready to take on that job.  However, eventually I will sort through them and put them in the archival binder in which the other recipes reside.  At some point I will also add in some of my most used recipes and the “favorite recipe” cards that my mother’s friends gave me at my bridal shower.  I love those particularly because each one of them represents a special person in my childhood and they are written out by each person, making them even more personal.  Ultimately, I will pass all of the recipes on to a family member who will equally enjoy the stories embedded in the cards.

So, as you put together your genealogy research, don’t forget your family’s recipes.  They tell lovely stories for those who are open to listening.  Happy research!

Photos and remembering

Posted by Elisabeth Doucett on September 23rd, 2016

83757026Most genealogists have talked with family members, trying to learn family facts that will contribute to their genealogy research.  I remember very clearly sitting with my mother who was a reticent New England Yankee (when it came to family information anyway), trying desperately to get her to open up and tell me stories about our family – with only limited success.

I recently saw an idea that would have helped me greatly in the process of talking with my mother.  It is very simple – bring family photos or a family album (if you have one) with you when you go to do an oral history with a family member.  If the conversation doesn’t take off with your question prompts (and you should always be prepared with questions), then try using photos to get the memories rolling.  You may not get exactly the information you were seeking but you might also find out information that you didn’t even know you wanted.

This seems like one of those “well, of course you should do that” ideas but I thought I would share it here for those folks who (like me) might not think of a photo as a tool that can help someone dig out old memories and information.  Happy research!


Super scanning!

Posted by Elisabeth Doucett on September 16th, 2016

scannable-logo-1For those of you genealogists with Apple mobile devices (phones, tablets, etc.), there is a very helpful app called Scannable that I would recommend you investigate.  You can download the App for free from the Apple app store onto your mobile device.

Scannable is a very smart, simple scanner that quickly takes scans of almost any size document.  All you have to do is download the app, open it up, point your mobile device (I find my iPhone works best) at the document you want to scan, and stand back!  The app automatically discovers the document (it helps to put it on a background of contrasting color to make it easier for the app to “find” the document), adjusts its size and focus and then scans.  Your end result is a high quality, PDF that you can then edit in Mac’s Preview application.

I used this app recently to scan five guest books from a family camp in Maine.  Each book was 60-75 pages and each took only about 10 minutes to scan.  You don’t even need to hit a button to take the scan – the app will find the page, take the scan, and then you just turn the page!  As someone who has spent HOURS scanning old documents, I fell in love with the simplicity of this app.

Why is scanning such a helpful tool to genealogists?  Because often you can’t make a copy of old fragile documents (maps, letters, old books) because they fall apart if touched.  However, scanning does not require any touching so it is a great way of preserving a record of the information you find, no matter the format.  Check it out and happy research!


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