Category Archives: rememberances

Cooking Up Some Family History!

This article first appeared in Discovering Family History Magazine, July/August 2008. No copying without the author’s permission is permitted.

Campton, KY church dinnerLinking Food to Memories

Scientists say that smell is the sense most tied to memory, and , of course, taste is linked. Think of your strongest childhood memories. Pancakes at Grandma’s? A hotdog at a baseball game? The smell of popcorn at a movie theater? The grape Popsicle you had after the doctor gave you stitches? We have such powerful memories tied to what we eat and drink, so it’s logical that our ancestors did also. Many people preserved their recipes and handed them down. Food, like many other factors of everyday life, helps to define people. Discovering family recipes is one way to find out who our ancestors were both economically and socially.

If You Don’t Have the Family Cookbook

If you don’t have a cookbook lovingly handed down to you, there are still ways to learn about what your ancestors ate. Once you find the recipes, you might even want to recreate some of them for a full sensory experience. At the Family Web Cafe, at http://www.familywebcafe.com, you can try some ethnic recipes.

Examples of Ethnic Foods to Try

Irish? Try shepherd’s pie with ground beef, mashed potatoes and cheese. Greek? Souvlaki might satisfy with its marinated meat, Greek olives and feta cheese. Those with Italian ancestry might like to try their hand at making stromboli. Can’t you just smell those amazing dishes right now?

Finding Historical Cookbooks

Early settlers to North America may have brought ingredients and recipes with them, but these were soon adapted to the food supply at hand. Feeding America: The Historic American Cookbook Project. at http://digital.lib.msu.edu/projects/cookbooks/, is one source for finding these recipes. The project, run by Michigan State University, is an online collection of cookbooks dating from the late 18th century to the early 20th century. The advanced search allows you to find regional and ethnic recipes. Click on “Browse the Collection”, then “By Interest”. Chances are, if your ancestors lived in the same region where these recipes came from, they ate similar things.

What Food Can Tell You

You can learn about the manners, customs and domestic arts of a group of people just by reading a few of these books. For instance, in Mary At the Farm and Book of Recipes Complied During Her Visit Among the “Pennsylvania Germans’, by Edith M. Thomas, you can learn how to preserve yellow ground cherries, make shoo-fly pie, brod knodel and other culinary delights. The book is written in narrative form and gives good insight into the everyday life of the Pennsylvania Dutch. In The Great Western Cook Book, or Table Receipts, Adapted to Western Housewifery by Angelina Maria Collins you can learn how to make veal in “western fashion” and apple pie in a pot.

But these cookbooks offer more than just recipes. There is a discussion in Mary At the Farm about women’s suffrage, both from an older woman’s view who saw no need for women to vote, and from a younger woman’s view who thought it was essential. In Estelle Woods Wilcox’s Buckeye Cookery, And Practical Housekeeping: Complied From Original Recipes, you can learn how to soften well water for washing clothes by using ashes. You never know what you’ll find in these “cookbooks”!

A search in your local library may turn up some interesting cookbooks, both regionally and nationally distributed. Sometimes the old cookbooks are reprinted and historical matter is inserted. Often cookbooks are compiled as fundraisers for churches and other groups.

Preserving Your Own Family Recipes

family cookbook

My mom’s self-produced family cookbook

While you’re digging around for recipes from past generations, don’t forget to preserve those you already have. Here is a great resource to help you with cookbook publishing: [Link from the article is broken. Perhaps you’d like to share one?]

With the popularity of microwave dinners and fast food, some of these family recipes, and the great memories that accompany them, might be lost if you don’t record them. Chances are the smell and taste of bite-sized pizzas will not be memorable enough to evoke emotions the way Christmas plum pudding or fresh baked Johnny Cakes can.

MIA/POW Bracelets

Who remembers these?

I remember walking up to a table at a 4th of July festival and asking for one of these. I was probably in junior high school at the time, but I don’t remember exactly when it was. I did know what it was for. A name, rank, and missing in action date was engraved on the bracelets and we were to wear them until the man came home or was reported dead. I remember the adult speaking to me as though I were a child (I was, of course, but what young teenager wanted to be treated like a child?)

“Now, you know what this is?”
I nodded.
“You have to agree not to take it off until he comes home or is reported dead.”
I nodded again. I knew. I agreed.

I wore that bracelet for a few years after the war ended. I scanned the newspaper diligently whenever a list of recovered soldiers appeared. But there never was any report on the man whose name I wore on my left wrist. It did not seem I would ever know what happened to Col. Burris N. Begley, so I took the bracelet off. I thought it was clear he was never coming home.

I wanted him to so badly. I wanted the name I had to be the fortunate one. I wanted to hear that he’d been reunited his family, a war hero, a happy ending.

I woke up this Memorial Day thinking about Col. Begley. He had a distinctive name and in this age of Google, I should be able to find something.

I first found the history of these bracelets, an idea hatched by college students who only wanted to remember the missing of the Vietnam War, not get involved in the controversy. You can read about it here.

I then found the Library of Congress database, which had a file on Col. Begley. He’d first been reported missing in December of 1966. I knew this from my bracelet. That had been all I’d known. Until now. His aircraft was shot down over North Vietnam. The last report they had from him was that he was going to eject. No chute was detected by his fellow pilots. There were conflicting reports. He was killed in action. He might have been a POW as his name was found scratched in the floor of a POW cell. He was declared killed in 1978. That very well may have been the year I took my bracelet off, even without officially knowing this.

The man was from Kentucky, not too far from me. He was only a year younger than my father, who had retired from the Army just two years before Col. Begley went missing. My father survived WWII. I don’t know, but Col. Begley might have as well.

I’m glad to have this information now. I’m glad he wasn’t forgotten by the public. Many besides myself wore his name on their wrists.

Here is a memorial page for Col. Begley. Maybe we never forget all those who sacrificed their lives fighting for our country.

http://www.vvmf.org/Wall-of-Faces/3267/BURRISS-N-BEGLEY