Monday, March 30, 2015

A Midwife's Tale:  The Diary, the Book, the Film, the Websites

I learned of midwife Martha Ballard a number of  years ago when a friend recommended I read Laural Thatcher Ulrich's book, A Midwife's Tale:  The Life of Martha Ballard Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812.  Since I have a midwife great-grandmother I thought it would be interesting reading even though their lives were nearly a century apart.  As it turned out, my great-grandmother and Martha seemed to have little in common other than helping mothers give birth to babies but, nonetheless, I found the book compelling reading.  Ulrich includes entries from the diary then interprets and discusses them, adding information and informing our understanding of the environment and times in which Martha lived.

Last year I learned that American Experience on PBS Home Video had available "A Midwife's Tale," which is based on Martha's Diary and Ulrich's book.  I promptly reserved it at our local library and watched it.  I thought it was exquisite.  I felt like I'd jumped back to rural Maine in the late 1700s.  It is narrated by Ulrich with music by Orison and shape-note singing by Word of Mouth Chorus.  As with her diary, the focus was not exclusively devoted to the duties of a midwife but included Martha's own family, her garden, her animals, keeping her house, making fabric and clothes, the weather, etc.

Further research led me to a website devoted to Martha Ballard's Diary:  DoHistory, "a site that shows you how to piece together the past from the fragments that have survived.  Our case study:  Martha Ballard."  At this website you can learn more about Martha, see digital images of her diary, and read about the creation of the film.  On Process of Making a Historical Film, you can learn about the research that went into making the movie and the efforts for historical accuracy.  I really like the thought that "the past is a foreign place" because it helped me realize how seriously the producer/writer, Laurie Kahn-Leavitt, took the making of this film and how important it was to strive for accuracy. 

Additionally, you can visit PBS's website, American Experience : A Midwife's Tale where you can find links to even more information about the film including links to special features,

I can't say enough good about the book and the film.  They go hand-in-hand, one with the written word, the other bringing the written word to life.  If you have female ancestors who lived during the mid- to late-1700s into the early 1800s, you won't want to miss reading this book and watching the film to find a deeper understanding of the lives of the women among your ancestors.


Copyright © 2015 Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Women in My Family, for Women's History Month

Women's History Month is drawing to a close and I realized that I haven't written a post about the women in my family.  I thought I'd honor some of my known foremothers by writing just one thing about each.  Of the women in the collage below I knew personally only my mother and her mother, the two on the top left. 
Left to right, top row then bottom row:
Audrey Meinzen Doyle, Emma Bickerstaff Meinzen, Mary Thompson Bickerstaff, Elizabeth Armitage Meinzen,
Beulah Gerner Doyle, Elvira Bartley Gerner, Tressa Froman Doyle, Elizabeth Laws Doyle
Audrey Meinzen Doyle, my mother, was probably the first woman in her family to receive a post-secondary degree.  She became a nurse.

Emma Bickerstaff Meinzen, my maternal grandmother, had a four-leaf clover patch in her back yard.  What luck!

Mary Thompson Bickerstaff, my maternal great-grandmother, worried that her husband wouldn't love her when she grew old.

Elizabeth Armitage Meinzen, my mother's paternal grandmother, immigrated to the U.S. in 1864 and was the mother of 15 children.

Beulah Gerner Doyle, my paternal grandmother, was a milliner before she married.

Elvira Bartley Gerner, my father's maternal grandmother, acted as a midwife and harnessed and drove her own rubber-tired buggy.

Tressa Froman Doyle, my father's paternal grandmother, made and gave my father a beautiful Double Wedding Ring quilt.

Other female ancestors include Elizabeth Laws Doyle, Catherine Saylor Froman, Elizabeth Stahl Gerner, Rebecca Smith Bartley, Eliza Hartley Armitage, Emma Nelson Bickerstaff, Lydia Bell Thompson, Martha Ray Doyle, Elizabeth Thompson Laws, Susannah Holmes Bickerstaff, Mary Richardson Thompson, and Lydia Fithen Bell.

Knowing these ladies lived means the world to me.  I look forward to learning more about them.


Copyright © 2015 Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

From Horses to Tractor

Barn on the Doyle Farm.  Photo taken about 1992.
I knew little about the workings of the dairy farm of my father's childhood in Stoneboro -- Dad rarely spoke of his youth -- so several years after he died I contacted his half-sister to learn more.  I wrote lists of questions and she patiently and thoroughly responded.  (Those letters are treasures to me now for all the family history information they contain.)  We corresponded by mail for a few months and then arranged a visit to Stoneboro.  She took us to see and explore the farm of their childhood.  The barn, unused for many years, was in a sad state of disrepair.

About farm work during the fall and winter months my aunt wrote,
The farm machinery had to be checked over and repaired, if needed, before storing it for winter.  The farming was all done by horses . . .
The 1927 Pennsylvania Census tells me that of Gust Doyle's 140 acres he devoted 35 to corn, wheat, oats, and Irish potatoes.  An additional 21 acres were given over to hay for the horses and the farm's 24 cows. 

Farming with horses was labor-intensive.  In addition to the work of plowing and harvesting, part of the work included the care and feeding of the animals and care of the harnesses, not to mention the work of harnessing and unharnessing the horses each day. 

I wish I'd asked my aunt about the horses.  Perhaps they were Belgians, like the ones shown here.

My aunt's letter continued,
. . . until we bought our first Fordson Tractor.  I don’t remember when that was – about 1930 – I think. 

Fordson tractors were manufactured in the U.S. from 1917 to 1920 by Henry Ford & Sons, Inc.  At right is an advertisement (with enlargement below) for a new Fordson tractor from the May 27, 1918, issue of the Youngstown Vindicator.  

Gust was 28 when this advertisement was published.  I wonder if he learned of the tractors from a newspaper ad similar to this one or by word of mouth.  Was his first view of a Fordson in Pittsburgh or another nearby city at a showing like the one advertised, at a county or state fair, or at the farm of a neighbor who had already purchased one?  Did a group of farmers gather around the new machine to debate the pros and cons of a tractor over horses, or had they already made up their minds that a tractor was a definite improvement over horses, the only other considerations being repairs, buying gasoline, the cost, and having the money in one lump sum?  

From my aunt's letters I know that Gust and his family already owned a Model T Ford.  Perhaps he already had the skills and knowledge to keep a tractor in good running order.  Unless he purchased the tractor from England, whose production of them extended from 1920, it's likely the Fordson he purchased was a used model.  Even so....

How exciting it must have been for Gust and his family to have a tractor! 

How I wish I had contemporary photographs of Gust on the tractor.  Lacking one, the story is less personal.  Still, I'm pleased to have found bits and pieces from other resources to create the history of Gust Doyle, his farm, and a Fordson tractor. 

How I wish I knew what happened to the horses.

Drive on over to Sepia Saturday 272 to see what others are sharing in this week's posts.;

Unaltered image of Belgian horses courtesy of Dave in Lincolnshire.
Color photo of Fordson tractor courtesy of Wikipedia.


Copyright © 2015 Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

They Survived Victorian England!

Having recently finished reading Ruth Goodman's How to Be a Victorian:  A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Victorian Life my amazement and gratitude know no bounds:  I have ancestors who lived in and survived the Victorian era in England.

On my sidebar under "About Me" I wrote, "Sometimes I want to jump back in time, into the lives of my ancestors.  Not to stay, of course -- too many modern conveniences I'd rather not do without -- but to meet them and watch their interactions with each other...."  That statement is more true now than it has ever been.  I'm pleased to read about what life may have like 150 years ago but I'm grateful that I live in these modern, enlightened times with such extensive knowledge about diet, health, medicine, etc.

Reading Goodman's book immerses one in the day-to-day activities, complexities, and simplicities of Victorian life from the time a person arose in the morning until bedtime.  In this 440-page book there is both depth and breadth.  The reader learns about living conditions, food and diet, work, leisure, health and illness, personal care, school, clothing, and so much more. For example:
  • It is possible to effectively clean one's teeth with soot.
  • Windows were left open in all types of weather to ensure enough oxygen to live through the night.
  • Cold baths were thought to harden the body and make the bather more resilient to common illness and disease. 
  • If there was meat -- possibly a strip of bacon -- at a meal it was eaten by the primary breadwinner. 

I have two known Victorian ancestor families from both sides of my family.

First:  My great-grandmother Elizabeth Armitage was born in 1852 in Yorkshire.  Her parents were Abel Armitage and Eliza Hartley.  Abel lived until at least 1880 but Eliza died between 1852 and about 1859.  Abel was a coal miner during some of the years he lived in England.  Elizabeth, her sister Ann, her father, step-mother and half siblings all immigrated to the U.S. in 1864.

Second:  William Doyle, born in 1863, and his parents, Andrew Doyle and Elizabeth Jane Laws lived in Northumberland.  William is my great-grandfather.  Both Andrew and William were coal miners.  Andrew brought his family to the United States in 1869 and 1870 where he again took up coal mining, at least for a while.

I know little about the siblings and parents of Abel, Eliza, Andrew, and Elizabeth Jane, but certainly they lived in Victorian England, too.  Sturdy individuals, all.

My only disappointment with the book was that it has no notes of any kind nor citations at the end.  Goodman includes a lengthy list of contemporary publications she used as source material but a reader would be hard-pressed to determine volume, date, page, etc. if he or she wished to find a particular topic in those resources.  Despite that, I recommend How to Be a Victorian if you'd like to learn more about how your Victorian ancestor may have lived between 1840 and the early 1900s.

I continue to marvel that my Victorian-born ancestors survived the challenges of the era.


Copyright © 2015 Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Nary a Hug, Hugs Aplenty - Sepia Saturday

The best Mom could do was touch Lady's side.  There was nary a hug for her -- at least not from my mom.

Lady was the boxer puppy who came to live with us when I was 3 years old.  She was an excellent pet -- gentle, patient, protective, and playful (or not, as the situation required).

I suspect my father wanted a dog and my mother was ambivalent, at best.  But I like to think that if Mom had vetoed a dog, my father would have acquiesced.

Dad was the one who trained Lady in the fundamentals of being a well-behaved dog and a well-mannered family pet.  Mom was the one who set the boundaries inside the house:  she insisted that Lady sit on the rug when she came into the house until her feet were dry, lie on a rug and not on the carpet, stay out of the bedrooms, off the furniture, etc. 

Mom tolerated Lady, perhaps even loved her, but she rarely touched Lady and, as far as I remember, never ever hugged or cuddled her.

On the other hand, I love giving and receiving hugs from my Airedale, Hannah.  She's a rescue girl, saved from an abusive situation when she was two.  Her world was ruled by fear of everything and her method of coping was to duck, run, and hide.  After seven years with us she's still wary of strangers and timid in new environments but she's thriving in so many other ways. 

Hannah has adored me from the first night in our home when I slept on the floor beside her.  We share hugs aplenty.

Visit Sepia Saturday to find what others are sharing about pets and animals this week.


Copyright © 2015 Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Doughnuts, Cookies, Butterscotch Pie - Family Recipe Friday

These are the last three recipes on the last page of my grandmother Emma (Bickerstaff) Meinzen's recipe book that she wrote in a Webster's Spelling tablet.

As with past recipes there is the assumption that those using the recipes would know the procedures to make the final products.  We can assume the doughnuts were fried; the cookies were rolled out and cut with cookie cutters; the butterscotch pie recipe is for the filling that gets cooked and poured into an already baked shell.  And the quantity of flour in the doughnuts?  The experienced cook probably knew the consistency required for the dough to become doughnuts instead of bricks.

     4 or 5 mashed potatoes
     1 tablespoon butter
     3 eggs
     2 cups sugar
     1 cup milk
     4 teaspoon B. Powder

     2 cup sugar
     2 eggs.
     1 cup butter or 1/2 lard
     1 "  milk
     5 teaspoons Baking Powder
     flour  --  flavor.

     Butter Scotch Pies
     1 cup brown Sugar
     1 tablespoon butter
     1 Pt. boiling Water
     Yolks of 2 eggs.
     2 tablespoon Corn Starch
     Beat whites of
     eggs for top.

The back of this spelling tablet has writing on it which is very difficult to read.  I can decipher some of the words and measurements but not enough to make the recipe. In fact, there's no indication at the top what the ingredients make.

This is what I can read:

     1/2 [possibly shortening]
     1 teaspoon [?]
     1 egg
     1 cup
     1 teaspoon soda
     1 3/4 flour
     [2?] or 3 [apples?]
     1/4 [?]
     1 [?]

And that is the end of the recipes in my grandmother's Webster's spelling tablet.  I will compile a post with the names and links to all the recipes. 


Monday, March 9, 2015

Book Suggestions for Women's History Month

Searching for a book to read for Women's History Month?  I offer several suggestions from books I've read during the past 12 months.  The first three are well-researched fiction.

A Coal Miner's Bride:  the Diary of Anetka Kaminska
by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
     I have coal mining ancestors who lived in both Pennsylvania and England so it's no wonder I gravitated to this book.  It is part of the Dear America series for young readers.  I knew that the author had also written a non-fiction book about coal mining and I imagined this was a fictional extension of her research.

When the story opens in 1896, Anetka, 13, is living in Poland with her grandmother because her mother was dead and her father had gone to America and was working in a coal mine in Lattimer, PA.  Anetka anticipates his return but instead he sends tickets purchased by another man with the idea that Anetka will marry the man when she arrives in America.  Anetka’s grandmother remains in Poland and gives her ticket to Leon, a young man who is an annoyance to Anetka.  It was easy to imagine a young Polish woman’s voice as I read.  The Lattimer Massacre occurred in 1897 and is incorporated into the story.

There are more than a few differences between Anetka and my coal mining ancestors (country of origin, type of coal mined, location in the U.S., etc.) but there was enough in the story for me to gain more insight into the lives of miners and their families.

Orphan Train
by Christina Baker Kline
     Seventeen-year-old Molly is about to be emancipated from foster care.  It is arranged for her to give volunteer hours to Vivian, 91, who rode an orphan train as a child.  As they interact we learn about both of their lives.  I thought it was interesting and well-written.  You can learn more about the story line here.

I like this quote:  “. . . The people who matter in our lives stay with us, haunting our most ordinary moments.  They’re with us in the grocery store, as we turn a corner, chat with a friend.  They rise up through the pavement; we absorb them through our soles.”

These Is My Words:  The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901, Arizona Territories
by Nancy E. Turner
     I was disinclined to read this book -- for some reason the title put me off -- but after hearing the third recommendation I borrowed it and began.

It is loosely based on the life of the author's great-grandmother.  As the book opens in 1881, Sarah is about 16.  She and her family are traveling through the Arizona Territories headed elsewhere.  Think wagon trains, camp fires, Indians, etc.  By the time I finished the book I'd learned that there were sequels and had already reserved them at my local library.  (Never judge a book by its title.) 

She Left Me the Gun:  My Mother's Life Before Me
by Emma Brockes
     Several times Emma’s mother said to her, “One day I will tell you the story of my life and you will be amazed.”  Her mother died without telling her and Emma sets off to learn about her mother’s childhood in South Africa and her immigration to England by tracking down all of her aunts and uncles and traveling back to South Africa.  Excellent sleuthing for those who know living relatives.

Emma said, “I think about it [her mother’s childhood to adult experience] afterward, what I am doing and why.  The stronger reaction, I think, would be to walk away, to honor the firewall my mother put between her past and my present and to carry on with my life.  But I can’t....  While she was alive, it was none of my business.  Now, unless I make it my business, it will follow her into oblivion.”

Recommended the Second Time

Book of Ages:  The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin
by Jill Lepore
     I can't say enough good things about this book.  You may have no interest in Jane Franklin, the nearly-forgotten sister of Benjamin Franklin, but I encourage you to read this book anyway.  Besides being wonderfully readable, Lepore is an excellent example of seeking out and finding information when it seems there's nothing to find.  Read it as a guide for writing about your own female ancestor for whom you have very little information.  Read it.  Previous post about this book is here.

Annie's Ghosts:  A Journey Into a Family Secret
by Steve Luxenberg
     Luxenburg's mother had always claimed to be an only child.  It wasn't until after his mother died that he learned that she had a sister who had been kept hidden for decades.  Read it for the story, all the while learning ways to search for an invisible female ancestor.  (Surely you have one hidden somewhere behind a brick wall?)  An earlier post about this book is here.  

Happy reading to you.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Cream Puffs - Family Recipe Friday

This is the next-to-last page of recipes that my grandmother, Emma (Bickerstaff) Meinzen, recorded in a Webster's spelling test tablet.

I'm probably in the minority but I've never liked cream puffs.  This recipe may produce perfectly delicious ones but I don't remember tasting them and I know I won't make the recipe to try them.  (The image at left does not show the cream puffs from this recipe.)

Cream Puffs.
1/2 cup water.
2 eggs.
1/2 cup flour.
1/4 teaspoon Salt.
3 tablespoon Shortening.
Mix Water & fat
& heat mixture
until the water
boils add flour
& salt & mix
thoroughly.  Stir
& cook until the
ingredients are
well blended &
paste does not
stick to the sides
of the pan.  Care
Should be taken
not to cook
the mixture too
long.  While
mixture is hot
add eggs one at
a time.  Beat

Cream Puffs.
until thoroughly
mixed.  Drop by
tablespoonfuls on
oiled sheet & bake
45 Mins.  When
cool slit open & fill.

1/4 cup flour.
1 tablespoon corn starch
3/4 cup Sugar.
2     " scaled [scalded] Milk.
1 tablespoon butter
1 or 2 eggs.
1/4 teaspoon Salt
1 teaspoon Vanilla.
Mix flour, corn
starch, & sugar add
hot milk slow [slowly]
& cook 20 min. then
add beaten
eggs.  Cook again
then add
Salt & Vanilla.

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