Taking Back What Was Once Lost

Changing Lives

I read a terrific article on the last page of Family Tree Maker magazine, June issue.

It made me think about some of my ancestors and how different my life experiences are in many ways, some good some bad. I often try to visualize what life was like in the 1920s, 1890s, 1850s, and so on–actual day-to-day life–and I read alot of materials trying to get a sense of that.

It goes without saying that as African-Americans, slavery, racism, discrimination, disenfranchisement, Jim Crow, and overall physical and emotional violence was ever-present and of course I stand in awe of all that we have come through. I am also thankful that women in general have made strides giving me a choices in my life that some of my ancestors could only dream about (educationally, career-wise, etc.). But I can genuinely think of a few things I think were absolutely better about some of the past times:

proximity of family. The nature of an agricultural-based life as well as earlier modes of transport made it more likely that people lived amongst their kin. Almost no one I know, including my friends, lives in close proximity, certainly not walking distance of family.

food. I think raising your own crops and livestock must have been in many ways better than all this processed, antibiotic- and pesticide- filled factory stuff we eat today. Yes, the thought of cutting off a chicken’s head and killing a hog scares me now, but I’m sure if I was brought up that way, it would’ve been some good eating! I think there’s something truly spiritual about really living off the land. My maternal grandmother would often say how you’d only have meat if you had a hog to kill, and that generally they did not eat much meat, but mostly vegetables and lots of home baking.

personal entertainment. There are certainly good things about Facebook and the internet and Twitter and all the new technology (after all, I couldn’t bring you this post without it). But I can’t help but to think when I listen to my elders discuss playing the piano and trumpet and singing with their family in the living room how wonderful it must have been to be so musical and really need that as a form of entertainment and socializing. Older family members often talk about how they would all break out singing in the living room and I think that must have been wonderful.

church and religious life. The mega churches of today seem like a different animal than the small, rural, steepletop,  frame churches and tent revivals I’ve heard and read about, and still experience when I visit my cousins in Tennessee. The fact that they still meet up in that back room after service, and have what appears to be Thanksgiving dinner every Sunday harkens back to a time when communities really were tied together.

minimalism. My paternal grandmother said that when she went to college, she had 3 dresses, 1 coat, 2 pair of shoes, 1 pair of pants and 2 blouses. Obviously we can live a good life without so many material things. I am embarrassed by all the “stuff” I have that I just don’t need. Part of it is the capitalism-filled consumerism and I’ve certainly guilty. It must have been nice to live in a time before that had taken a firm grip on America.

Can you think of any other ways life may have been better in the past?

1 Comment

  1. August 26, 2011    

    I think you have covered everything. I can’t think of anything else right now.

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About Me

I blog, teach, write and lecture about family history research and it's just as rewarding today as it was when I began 18 years ago. This lifelong quest has helped me to better know my past and I've taken back--reclaimed- my kin and some of that lost memory.  

Post History

What I Talk About

Locations and Surnames

Hardin, Chester and Lawrence Counties, TN
Holt, Barnes, Harbour, Bradley Springer and Fendricks
Lawrence County, AL
Springer and Fendricks
Montgomery County, MD
Prather, Simpson
Somerset County, MD
Waters, Fountain, Curtis
Duval and Madison County, FL
Smith, Harris, Garner

Favorite Family History Quotes

"The past is not dead. In fact, it's not even past."
-William Faulkner

"Call it a clan, call it a network, all it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one"
- Jane Howard

"Friends are God's apologies for relations."
-Hugh Kingsmill

"No matter what you've done for yourself or for humanity, if you can't look back on having given love and attention to your own family, what have you really accomplished?"
-Elbert Hubbard

"Families are like fudge; mostly sweet with a few nuts."

"If you can't get rid of the skeleton in your closet, you might as well make it dance!"

"Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city;)"
-George Burns

"Where does the family start? It starts with a young man falling in love with a girl. No superior alternative has yet been found."
-Winston Churchill

"The great gift of family life is to be intimately acquainted with people you might never ever introduce yourself to had life not done it for you."
-Kendall Hailey

"If you look deeply into the palm of your hand, you will see your parents and all the generations of your ancestors. All of them are alive in this moment. Each is present in your body. You are the continuation of each of these people."
-Thich Nhat Hanh