Genealogy has made me an avid historian. I want to know what my ancestors ate, the names and types of plants they used, how they built their houses and what kind of clothes they wore.
I recently picked up two books detailing American Colonial life: Plants of Colonial Days by Raymond L. Taylor (Dover, $3.95) and Colonial Living by Edward Tunis (Johns Hopkins University Press, $18.95).
Plants of Colonial Days is a great resource for the gardening genealogist who wants to envision (and perhaps grow?) the same plants his ancestors grew. The English yew tree, for example, was reported in Virginia as early as 1764, and by 1771 was included in Thomas Jefferson’s landscaping plans. The jonquil was brought to America by the earliest colonists, according to Taylor, and the variety growing in Williamsburg, Va., today is similar to the form known by colonial gardeners.
Colonial Living details every facet of daily life, from flax-spinning to cooking and home crafts. I learned my male colonial cousins wore breeches with a band buttoned around the waist and a flap front with six or eight buttons. I was also interested to learn that those who wore wigs didn’t wear just one style, but had their choice of a periwig, campaign wig, bob wig, bag wig or grizzle wig!
If you want to learn more about your colonial ancestors, check your local bookstores or libraries for these books and others, or check out my favorite Web sites:
• The Colonial American Gazette
• Education in Colonial America
• The Gardens of Plimoth Plantation
• Selected Recipes from Colonial Williamsburg
• Religion in 18th-Century America
• A History of Paper Money in Colonial New Jersey, 1668-1775