Bookshelf: Life Lines

Bookshelf: Life Lines

Delve into your ancestors' day-to-day experiences with the help of these 6 social histories.

 Whether you’re ready to write your family history or you just want to know what your ancestors’ daily lives were like, you can transport yourself back into their time with a trip to the bookstore or library. You’ll find lots of books and series about everyday life in America. Written by experts in the various time periods and subjects, these volumes will add “flesh to the bones” of your skeletal pedigree charts. Here’s a sampling:

1. Colonial Living by Edwin Tunis (Johns Hopkins University Press). Tunis re-creates the everyday lives of the men and women who lived in 17th-and 18th-century America with lively text and detailed illustrations. Learn how your colonial ancestors built their houses, spun yarn, made candles, cooked on open hearths, farmed and manufactured goods. Colonial Living also explores how various cultures — English, Dutch, Flemish, American Indian and African-American — shaped this period in history.

2. Everyday Life Among the American Indians, 1800 to 1900 by Candy Moulton (Writer’s Digest Books). The newest book in Writer’s Digest Books’ Everyday Life series, this resource will give you tons of details about your Native American ancestors. Covering more than 500 tribes, Moulton provides information on tribal leadership, weaponry and warfare, food and shelter, tools, medicine, languages, customs, religions and crime and punishment. Extensive bibliographies, maps, illustrations, chronologies and detailed overviews make this an invaluable reference.

3. Frontier Living by Edwin Tunis (The Lyons Press). This illustrated history of life on the frontier spans the arrival of Europeans in America to the days of the pioneers in the American West. You can immerse yourself in the character and culture of frontier men and women, finding information on log cabins, sod houses, farmers, fur traders, mountain men, forty-niners and cowhands. You’ll also learn about guns and rifles, Conestoga wagons, stagecoaches, steamboats and the railroad.

4. The Uncertainty of Everyday Life, 1915-1945 by Harvey Green (HarperPerennial). This turbulent time in American history encompasses the Great Depression, World War I and World War II During these three decades, society witnessed the Jazz Age and the stock market crash, followed by a boost in advertising and consumerism. Americans were buying cars, radios and appliances, and many started enjoying running water, indoor plumbing and central heating. From work to play, from growing up to growing old, from health to home life, this highly readable account will give you insights into life during the early 20th century. It’s a perfect complement to oral history interviews, too.

5. Victorian America:Transformations in Everyday Life, 1876-1915 by Thomas J. Schlereth (HarperPerennial). Prior to the Civil War, people’s lives revolved around their local community. But with the railroad spanning the nation, everyday life changed. Schlereth’s book is a lively account of the changes in life and culture during the latter part of the 19th century. As with other books in HarperPerennial’s Everyday Life in America series, you’ll discover what people ate, which fashions they wore, how they traveled, what they did for fun, how they lived and how they died.

6. The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in the 1800s by Marc McCutcheon (Writer’s Digest Books). Drawing from contemporary sources such as magazines and books published during the time period, this book introduces you to 19th-century slang, transportation, occupations, money, medicine, hygiene, food, amusements, courtship, crime and more quirky details of everyday life. Each chapter contains a I handy glossary of definitions and interesting facts. Timelines of events, books, magazines, innovations and popular songs round out this volume.

From the October 2001 issue of Family Tree Magazine

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