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Wednesday, January 7, 2015
Here Are 11 Skills Your Great-Grandparents Had That You Don’t
Those of us who write historical fiction are always striving
to make sure our characters are part of the time period in which our novels are
set. A farmer in 19th Century Kansas, for example, had to know how to hunt and
fish, how to forage and how to butcher livestock, clean chickens, and shoe a
There were no supermarkets, no computers or online shopping,
no clothing stores or malls. Yes, there were Sears and Montgomery Ward catalogs
where women could order ready-made dresses and men could order pants and
shirts, but ordering from them was considered an infrequent luxury.
I recently received an e-mail from Ancestry.com, the online genealogy
service that asked:
"How old school
are you? Do you think you've got what it takes to live in your
I was intrigued by this question, having just completed the
first book in a trilogy of novels, the first of which is set in the late 19th
Century American West. As someone who spent time on a farm, who hunted and
fished and cleaned hundreds of chickens, rabbits and squirrels, I figured I
would be OK if I were suddenly transported to my great-grandparents' time.
But there was more to living back then than hunting and
fishing. Life was much, much harder and so were the people.
Take a look at what Ancestry.com had to say:
Our parents and
grandparents may shake their heads every time we grab our smart phones to get
turn-by-turn directions or calculate the tip. But when it comes to life skills,
our great-grandparents have us all beat. Here are some skills our
great-grandparents had 90 years ago that most of us don’t.
While your parents and
grandparents didn’t have the option to ask someone out on a date via text
message, it’s highly likely that your great-grandparents didn’t have the option
of dating at all. Until well into the 1920s, modern dating didn’t really exist.
A gentleman would court a young lady by asking her or her parents for
permission to call on the family. The potential couple would have a formal
visit — with at least one parent chaperone present — and the man would leave a
calling card. If the parents and young lady were impressed, he’d be invited
back again and that would be the start of their romance.
2. Hunting, Fishing,
Even city dwellers in
your great-grandparents’ generation had experience hunting, fishing, and
foraging for food. If your great-grandparents never lived in a rural area or
lived off the land, their parents probably did. Being able to kill, catch, or
find your own food was considered an essential life skill no matter where one
lived, especially during the Great Depression.
In this age of the
boneless, skinless chicken breast, it’s unusual to have to chop up a whole
chicken at home, let alone a whole cow. Despite the availability of
professionally butchered and packaged meats, knowing how to cut up a side of
beef or butcher a rabbit from her husband’s hunting trip was an ordinary part
of a housewife’s skill set in the early 20th century. This didn’t leave the men
off the hook, though. After all, they were most likely the ones who would field
dress any animals they killed.
Before the era of shopping
malls and convenience stores, it was more common to trade goods and services
with neighbors and shop owners. Home-canned foods, hand-made furniture, and
other DIY goods were currency your great-grandparents could use in lieu of
Before Clothes Dryers There was the Sun
Though it’d be futile
for you to argue with the barista at Starbucks about the price of a cup of
coffee, your great-grandparents were expert hagglers. Back when corporate
chains weren’t as ubiquitous, it was a lot easier to bargain with local shop
owners and tradesmen. Chances are your great-grandparents bought very few
things from a store anyway.
6. Darning and
Nowadays if a sock
gets a hole in it, you buy a new pair. But your great-grandparents didn’t let
anything go to waste, not even a beat-up, old sock. This went for every other
article of clothing as well. Darning socks and mending clothes was just par for
7. Corresponding by
great-grandparents didn’t text or email. However, even though the telephone
existed, it wasn’t the preferred method of staying in touch either, especially
long-distance. Hand-written letters were the way they communicated with loved
ones and took care of business.
8. Making Lace
Tatting, the art of
making lace, was a widely popular activity for young women in your
great-grandparents’ generation. Elaborate lace collars, doilies, and other
decorative touches were signs of sophistication. However, fashion changed and
technology made lace an easy and inexpensive to buy, so their children probably
didn’t pick up the skill.
Tatting, the Art of Making Lace
9. Lighting a Fire
Sure, matches have
been around since the 1600s. But they were dangerous and toxic — sparking
wildly out of control and emitting hazardous fumes. A more controllable,
non-poisonous match wasn’t invented until 1910. So Great-grandma and
Great-grandpa had to know a thing or two about lighting a fire without matches.
10. Diapering With
weren’t commonly available until the 1930s. Until then, cloth diapers held with
safety pins were where babies did their business. Great-grandma had a lot of
unpleasant laundry on her hands.
11. Writing With a
While it’s true that
your grandparents were skilled in the lost art of writing in cursive, your
grandparents probably were, too. However, the invention of the ballpoint pen in
the late 1930s and other advances in pen technology mean that your
great-grandparents were the last generation who had to refill their pens with
Thanks to Ancestry.com for sharing this. I hope it helps you
realize how easy you have it today compared to 100 years ago.
Here is a link to Ancestry.com's website: http://home.ancestry.com