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Fri Jul 19, 2013, 12:21 PM

thinking about the past

Last edited Fri Jul 19, 2013, 02:58 PM - Edit history (1)

I often think of the past. For one thing, because I am old and can remember when Isaac Asimov and Arthur Ashe and Robert Kennedy were still alive.
But for another thing because I do historical research every day, looking for distant relatives and family connections.

Today I am looking at John Loomis in the 1880 census. He was 52 years old and his wife Sarah was 46. Living in Butler County, Iowa and working, of course, as a farmer. They have seven children living with them in 1880, including their two oldest sons George 26 and Burton 24 and down to their youngest son Sherman 6.

1870 census tells me they have two more daughters who were not with them in 1880 when they would have been 23 and 21. And it also tells me that John is apparently the anti-christ, since it says his personal property was worth $666 in 1870 and his land was worth $350.

In the 1900 census, George was still with them, a widower, and Sarah's mother, 86 year old Sallie Vincent was also with them! The 1900 census also says that only 7 of their 9 children are still lving (perhaps the 7 listed in 1880?) and that only 1 of Sallie's 5 children was living. I know that sons George, Charles and Sherman were alive in 1900. I cannot find Burton and cannot identify John Wesley. The daughters I will not be able to find unless a) I get lucky and a widowed parent is living with one of them in later censuses or b) somebody posts their own family information online including one of those daughters.

As it turned out, I got lucky and after her husband passed away, Sarah was living in 1910 with her daughter Minnie B, who had 3 children by a Mr. Fuller and was now married to a James H. Miller. Her daughter Amanda is also with them in 1910.

But that is getting into the weeds of research, which was not why I started this essay.

I wanted to think about, to talk about the way they lived back then. 1880 was only 133 years ago. Hardly a blink in terms of history. I mean, the other day a 103 year old woman was on the news chatting away with her interviewer. My mom and dad's grandparents were living in 1880.

How did they live? Consider John's family. He and his wife raised 9 children on just what they could get from the land. John was not paid a living wage. John did not have a 40 hour work week or paid holidays or paid vacation or paid sick leave or health insurance with his job. (And, as I well know from experience, neither do most self-employed people today). He did not have electricity or central heat or air conditioning either.

He probably heated his home with firewood, and if he got hot, the best he could do is drink a cold drink (with no refrigerators) or take a cold bath (with no running water). They fed their family with what they got from the ground and from their livestock, and with farm products that they sold. They had to can their own food, probably slaughter their own meat and churn their own butter and make their own clothes. Unlike me, they probably did not have a closet or three full of old clothes and multiple pairs of boots and shoes.

Think of Sarah giving birth to 9 children between August 1853 for the first and June 1873 for the last. No such thing as an ultrasound and likely almost no pre-natal care.

Think of what the kids did not have. No bicycles (invented in the 1860s). No skateboards. No board games. No such thing as basketball or football (baseball though, dates to before 1850 but how readily was equipment available - balls, gloves, bats?) And in some ways they are better off too, because there was no such thing as four square either. No such thing as a radio, a television, an ipad, an ipod, a computer, a VCR, no playstation (although I guess pong was invented in about 1872) (see how old I am, I remember pong). no records, no CDs (I guess they did have these things called 8 tracks) and very few musical instruments. There were very few public libraries, if any.

Not much in the way of schools. The 1940 census tells me my dad's maternal grandfather (born in 1860) had a 4th grade education, his wife had a 6th grade education (but their daughter graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1927 (yes, my grandma rocks!) Dad's paternal grandfather (born 1875) had a 10th grade education and his wife had a 6th grade education. Only one of my mom's grandparents lived past 1940, her paternal grandfather, who had an 8th grade education.

It was like living in North Korea, there was no such thing as Coca-cola. No such thing as a la-z-boy. No such thing as McDonalds (all you hitchhikers try not to pass out when you consider that reality) or Amazon. Billions and billions of consumer items that we are able to buy today, including DVDs of Carl Sagan's TV show, were not available in 1880 even if they could afford them with their average income of perhaps $3,000 a year. John lived to be almost 80 and Sarah lived to be 87. Did they think life was hard or that life was good, or both at various times?

Something to think about. There has been a lot of improvements and inventions in the last 130 years, and in spite of the unfairness of those at the top grabbing a gigantic slice of the pie thanks to Reagan, we do still have it pretty good in San Dimas these days. If only we would be excellent to each other. Drop one of us back in 1880 and we would have no doubt about the hardness of life back then. Today, we have lots of benefits and advancements that we perhaps do not appreciate enough. Even advancements in justice. In 1880, Sarah could not vote. She lived long enough to see women's suffrage. Did she register and vote in the 1920 election before she died in 1921? Or just celebrate the progress?

Considering the years as well, Sarah lived through the Civil War and WWI. We have had nothing like those in my lifetime. 117,.000 Americans died in about two years of WWI and 620,000 died in the four years of the civil war. The battle of Gettysburg itself, with 51,000 casualties was almost as deadly to Americans as all of Vietnam (it is worth remembering though, that the Vietnam war, like the Iraq invasion, was far more deadly to those living in the country where it was fought and feeling the brunt of our military might) , and that when the US population was much smaller.

The future may not be bright. I worry about things like population, resources, and environmental damage that even my nieces and nephews will face in their lives, but the present seems pretty good compared with the not-so-distant past.

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Arrow 14 replies Author Time Post
Reply thinking about the past (Original post)
hfojvt Jul 2013 OP
WovenGems Jul 2013 #1
hfojvt Jul 2013 #6
oldhippie Jul 2013 #2
OneGrassRoot Jul 2013 #4
hfojvt Jul 2013 #5
IdaBriggs Jul 2013 #3
struggle4progress Jul 2013 #7
hfojvt Jul 2013 #8
haele Jul 2013 #11
hfojvt Jul 2013 #13
MineralMan Jul 2013 #9
hfojvt Jul 2013 #10
MineralMan Jul 2013 #12
hfojvt Jul 2013 #14

Response to hfojvt (Original post)

Fri Jul 19, 2013, 12:24 PM

1. Per Pink Floyd

"the memories of an old man are of the deeds of man in his prime."

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Response to WovenGems (Reply #1)

Fri Jul 19, 2013, 01:54 PM

6. Pink Floyd. Now there's a blast from the past.

How many remember that Pink was in another band before her solo career?

I wonder whatever happened to old Floyd.

Unfortunately, in my prime I was only reading books that Asimov wrote. Not a bad way to pass the time, but hardly an enterprise of great pith and moment.

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Response to hfojvt (Original post)

Fri Jul 19, 2013, 12:37 PM

2. Thank you for that most excellent post

 

I know we have disagreed on something in the past, but I always enjoy and read your posts with a bit more than ordinary interest. I find them thoughtful, well researched, and well spoken. (Well, except when you disagree with ME. )

Thank you for making a DU a better place.

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Response to oldhippie (Reply #2)

Fri Jul 19, 2013, 12:41 PM

4. I second that sentiment. The OP is most eloquent. K&R :) n/t

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Response to oldhippie (Reply #2)

Fri Jul 19, 2013, 01:07 PM

5. flattery will only get you so far



I cannot remember past battles. Perhaps I sustained a head injury in the scuffle. I think I remember some positive comments as well though in the past.

I love that username, as I feel it fits me. I guy my age once said "hippies ruled in the 70s even in the small towns".

Perhaps especially in the small towns as the 60s did not get to the midwest until the 70s and those were my formative years. The other day I saw a yearbook from 1983 and even then the hair was worn long.

Most positive comments make DU a better place. I need to try to remember that in the future.

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Response to hfojvt (Original post)

Fri Jul 19, 2013, 12:40 PM

3. Thank you for sharing. k&r nt

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Response to hfojvt (Original post)

Fri Jul 19, 2013, 02:10 PM

7. When she was growing up, my grandmother's home was lit by kerosene lamps, and everybody

traveled by horse. She remembered months and months of beautiful sunsets after the Krakatoa explosion. When she was raising her family, she and her husband had a car and radio, and her kids spent part of each Saturday at the movies, first silent, and then talking. When her kids were still in elementary school, everybody would still stop whatever they were doing and crane their necks to watch an airplace; Lindbergh was big news was big news when she was in her prime. Before she died, she had a TV and had flown back and forth across the Atlantic in a passenger plane

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Response to struggle4progress (Reply #7)

Fri Jul 19, 2013, 02:47 PM

8. neat to have those stories

my grandparents, who I saw just once a year for only a couple of days, did not talk that much about the past. My dad has flown quite a bit, and they made a couple trips to Alaska, but I am the only one in my family to have gone to Europe, other than my niece and my brother-in-law, who went because of their jobs. Well, other nieces have been to China and Costa Rica too.

Dad's parents house had push-button switches that I thought were kinda cool, and dad's grandparents had a hand-crank record player from way back. We used to listen to that as kids, because dad ended up with it. Invented in 1877. How long before very many people had them? Krakatoa was in 1883 and my oldest grandparent was born in 1889.

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Response to struggle4progress (Reply #7)

Fri Jul 19, 2013, 07:09 PM

11. My mother in law grew up in a house built in the '20's with no indoor plumbing until 1958.

They had a well, a pump, and a outhouse. The little three bedroom ordered-out-of-the-Sears-Catalog house had a kitchen and wash room, dining room, parlor, electricity (not original - from the TVA project) and a phone, but no plumbing - because bathrooms added to the house had still been an "extra" in the cheaper house plans when her grandfather bought it.

The house was on a three acre patrimony originally just within the boundaries of an Alabama town of 5K or so inhabitants even when she was a kid. Her father and grandfather were both shade-tree mechanics and built/cobbled together a lot of auto parts and farm implements (including buggy parts and mule harnesses) from hand, and they grew enough produce on their land to trade or sell some. She said she was happy enough growing up, even though she really was much happier once they added a bathroom and got indoor plumbing.

Y'know, I remember film clips from Johnson's War on Poverty and have heard some stories from contemporaries who grew up on reservations or in remote backwoods and valleys on a family ranch or homestead; living as if it were the 1870's without plumbing or electricity was still not uncommon in some parts of the US well into the 1970's. One woman I went to boot-camp with from North Carolina came out of the hills with one dress, pair of shoes and didn't know how to use the various types of water faucets in the barracks; she was 25, already had eight children that her mother and sisters were looking after, and had just buried her fifth husband when one of her cousins who was still in the Navy had come by for a visit; since she didn't want to get married again to take care of her kids, he took her into the town 20 miles away to see the recruiter - that was the first time she had ever been more than five miles away from the family home that was built before the Northern War.
I'll let you guess which war that was...

Not everyone who lived like that thought they were poor, much of it depended on how much respect these individuals had within their local communities - someone struggling for a life in Pine Ridge, a mining family in West Virginia, or a sharecropper family out of a Tennessee holler who working up and down the Appalachians during orchard seasons is not going to have the same experience as a multi-generational ranch family in New Mexico or a fishing family out of the Olympic Peninsula, even if they are all living with the same relatively poor income and services.

What makes the current situation worse is that there are very few places left to homestead. There is no more frontier for those who can't afford or can't psychologically handle settlements and modern life to go to. If you don't have a job that can pay for the trappings of modern civilization, there are very few places left where you can go and live/settle on your own. All arable land has been claimed or designated. If one don't have enough means to pay for a certain standard of shelter, be it a family homestead or a squatter's claim on vacant land, one falls into the "vagrant" category of homeless, and that puts one outside the law.
So those of my generation who were able to make it on a minimum are pretty much the last of those who could keep their own home based simply on their own efforts and skills, whether or not they made money off it.

Haele

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Response to haele (Reply #11)

Fri Jul 19, 2013, 08:27 PM

13. actually, I lived that way in 1987

I bought some land - 4.5 acres with a mobile home on it for $4,500 and bought a wood stove and some chimney pieces. Dug my own outhouse pit (which was probably illegal, but the outhouse was already there.) and moved the outhouse on top of it. My heat came from that woodstove and, of course, I had no air conditioning. My water came from a spring that was a quarter mile down hill.

I lived that way for about 13 months, from July 1987 until I went to graduate school in August 1988. I tried to grow my own food, but really had no success at that. It was really dry that summer, even in Wisconsin. I was hauling about 4 or 8 gallons of water up the hill every day to water my garden, but didn't get much besides a few pole beans. I got more blackberries than anything else, and I did not even have to plant them.

I had a car that would not start (I eventually sold it for $75 to a neighbor (I had bought it for $300 two years earlier)) and I had no driver's license. So to get to the stores 7 miles east or 4 miles west I had to walk or bicycle. Dad came with his chain saw and cut up a couple of dead elms, but mostly I got my wood with hand tools - an axe, a bow saw and a wedge and sledge.

Unless you know something about farming (which I didn't), I don't see homesteading as much better than being homeless. Our ancestors in the 1880s had far more practical knowledge than I was ever taught. Part of that may have been my fault - I was a math and science guy who thought that practical stuff like fixing cars was somehow beneath me, and also not really a strength for me.

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Response to hfojvt (Original post)

Fri Jul 19, 2013, 02:55 PM

9. Nice post.

I was very fortunate to have a grandmother and great-grandmother alive during my childhood. Since history has always interested me, I used to ask them questions about stuff, like their own childhoods, when they saw their first automobile, when they remember first having electricity in their homes, and stuff like that. Each question brought out their memories and tied them to a past I couldn't experience.

They were always ready to tell me their stories, share something about their own lives when they were my age, or tell me a story that I could relate to. My one living grandfather was more taciturn, but could sometimes be convinced to talk about his life as well. It was a high point of my memory of those ancestors.

It was also an introduction to the idea of asking others similar questions, and I always got a story in return from older people.

All of that stimulated my interest in times before I was born, and led to my reading of hundreds of old non-fiction books from various periods of history. I'm glad for it.

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Response to MineralMan (Reply #9)

Fri Jul 19, 2013, 05:55 PM

10. I am not sure why I never asked mine about it

I have been sorta forcing that information on my nieces and nephews as I write to them on their birthdays telling them "when I was your age" but there has not been that much going on in my lifetime. My world was a lot like theirs is, except with less chipotle.

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Response to hfojvt (Reply #10)

Fri Jul 19, 2013, 07:46 PM

12. In a way I am lucky.

Born in 1945, I did not see a television until 1952. I remember Sputnik, the Cuban missile crisis, fallout shelters and JFK being assassinated. I started learning computer programming in 1963, and watched the beginnings of the personal computer. I had an early cell phone, pocket calculator, and even experimented with t h e first commercial transistors and the first integrated circuits. Lots of stuff has happened in my lifetime.

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Response to MineralMan (Reply #12)

Sat Jul 20, 2013, 02:47 PM

14. well actually I have seen some of those changes too

but they don't seem all that significant. Yes, our first TV was black and white and we had a big metal antenna on top of our house and a device that would turn the antenna for better reception (which we used and it seemed to work). Computers were pretty primitive when I was in high school and even in college I was learning on macros. The micos we had at the Air Force in late 1985 were also very primitve. 320 K floppy disks and the little red light and grinding sound when you accessed them.

None of that seems quite a significant as flying, driving, electrical devices. Cell phones to me still seem like a great evil. I was, however, slow to accept the internet too.

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