I’ve been thinking about the reasons we research our family trees, specifically women who research their husband’s family. You know the ones – the husband isn’t interested and the wife is stuck with hers so she moves on to build a tree for her husband, and gets hooked.
I’ve never really understood this clearly, until today.
We’re all familiar with the phenomenon of the genealogist who is only interested in their own surname. These are mostly males, in my experience, who follow their direct male as far back as they can go and then stop. I can sort of understand this – there is an attraction to seeing your own surname in the records that is reduced when you see maiden surnames. It’s a bigger thrill for me to find a Riley than a Stewart or a Goode.
My breakthrough came when I considered that I didn’t change my name when I got married. I’ve been married for 22 years and some months, and I made the decision to keep my name. It’s my name, after all.
But what if I had changed it? What if I’d spent the last 22 years as Carole Bassett (it seems weird just seeing it written there) instead of Carole Riley? I’d been writing it and signing it and answering to it and filling in forms with it and opening mail with it on the front? I’d feel like a Bassett now, wouldn’t I?
So of course I’d be interested in the Bassetts, and where they came from. Especially if I had kids and their name was Bassett. Or some awful hyphenated Riley-Bassett or Bassett-Riley. So if my Bassett wasn’t doing his own (a rarity among husbands!) I’d be doing it and saying it’s for him. When really it would be for me.
You just have to put yourself in the shoes of the people you are trying to understand, and it all becomes much clearer.
I’ve just read a quote from a book called In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan, in a blog post by Chris Peterson, a legend in the field of Positive Psychology. The blog is about his reaction to the book (all good) and what food means to us today (not all good). The quote is this:
“Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother would not recognize as food” (p. 148)
This is such good advice on so many levels.
We may not know exactly what our great-grandmothers cooked for their families, but we can easily recognise food that they would have been horrified by:
- breakfast cereal in a box
- mashed potato in a box – just add water!
- individually-wrapped cheese slices
- fish and chips
- many other examples I’m sure you can name
OK, I admit that our great-grandmothers would have been horrified by the food from other countries as well. None of mine would ever have seen pasta, or pizza, or stir-fries, or baba ganoush,or any of the very many foods we now take for granted. That’s not what I’m talking about here.
Over-processed food is what I was thinking when I read this. Our great-grandmothers didn’t have supermarkets, and probably bought very little from the store, as little as possible. Many grew their own food. Mine milked cows, made butter, jam, and the bread it went on. They probably killed and plucked chickens and a great many other tasks that I would find distasteful. But they knew exactly what they were feeding their families.
It probably never occured to them that there might be anything that masqueraded as food that was actually bad for them.
If you are very lucky you have recipes passed down from your grandmothers and great grandmothers. I don’t, but I still remember Gran’s apple pies. My Mum never could make pies like Gran. The point is that they made them from fresh ingredients, they didn’t buy them from Woolworths.