What would it be like if it took all day to get to and from church on Sunday? What if a bath meant hauling water from the creek and heating it up on the stove? What if all you and your family had to eat was what you grew or hunted for yourself?
My family and I were in Gatlinburg for a few days over Spring Break a few weeks ago. One of the highlights of our trip was a 9-mile horseback ride in the Smoky Mountains. Any nature lovers or horse lovers or birders or those who just love fresh air and sunshine should check out Great Smoky Mountain National Park, it’s awesome!
While on our ride we passed several tumbledown homesteads from the original settlers of the area. Our guide pointed out watering holes and found objects like washtubs and metal bedsteads that are the only evidence humans ever lived there.
The path we rode along was an old wagon track that was wide enough (barely!) for two horses to ride side-by-side. There were places where there was a sheer drop-off just next to the track, not a guard rail in sight.
I thought as we rode about what life was like in a place like that. Of course, compared to some places people lived in the early 1800s, the sites we saw were practically an urban paradise. You could get to town with an hour’s walk, much faster if you rode a horse or mule.
Even though just about everything people did involved more effort and planning than it does nowadays (you couldn’t just run down to the market if you ran out of sugar after all), I suspect life really wasn’t all that different then. Mothers worried about their children. Fathers (and mothers) worked hard all day to provide for their families. Young people learned their letters, practiced their faith with their families and courted each other as young people have always done.
One of the hobbies I’ve been dabbling in lately is genealogy. It’s amazing how much information is available for free online! I think I’m related by blood or marriage to half of Auglaize and Mercer counties here in Ohio, LOL!
I’ve traced part of my family all the way back to the 1600s. I recently found my great-great-great-grandmother’s parents’ names by checking a photo of a census report from 1860. I’ve found ancestors that died in the influenza pandemic of 1918-19, including my great-grandmother, as well as an ancestor that died of gallstones (!) and one that died of tuberculosis. I found families that had 10 or more children, and families that had just one baby girl that died in infancy.
I’d like to share a photo of my grandparents on their wedding day in 1942. She is seated, and he is standing behind her. He was 29 and she was 23 years old.
This is very different from the wedding portraits that we see nowadays. However, I can’t help but think that in many ways they were EXACTLY like modern-day brides and grooms. They are sharing a very special day with family and friends. Was she nervous? Was he? Did they want children, and were they worried about how they would provide for any children they had? She worked as a wrapper for a silverware company before they were married. Did she continue to work? Did they argue about it? I don’t know.
Here is a fun, casual picture of them that I just adore. I’m not sure how old they were in this photo. See how the sun is in her eyes? She looks like she’s laughing at something off-camera, and he’s got her arm around her. But for the clothing styles this could easily be a modern-day couple.
It’s easy to feel that we have nothing in common with those who lived decades ago, or hundreds of years ago. However, the more I study my family’s history, and history in general, the more I find that people are people, and we have more in common than we think.
QUESTION: How do you think life is different now than it was in the 1800s? How is it the same?