Thursday, September 8, 2016

Crafts and Skills of Our Ancestors and Ourselves

How many people as they start diving into their ancestors’ lives wish they knew what a typical day was like? What did the people do on a day-to-day basis? What were their interests and how did they actually do certain things?

Often when visiting a living history museum such as Old Sturbridge Village, Williamsburg or Genesee Country Museum, you will see re-enactors going about their day. Men are doing farm or other vocational chores. There are demonstrations of blacksmithing, gunsmithing, wheelwrights and others. The women are gardening or in the homes cooking a meal. They are spinning and weaving cloth. All kinds of crafts are being demonstrated by people throughout the village in the way they would have been typically done during that time period. The jobs were usually done by either one gender or the other with little overlap, which is why men are typically found in some places and women in others despite the fact that today, either gender would be likely to be interested in and doing a particular skill.

Unfortunately, in today’s modern world, we often don’t have time for this slower pace of doing things. Caught in the hurried shuffle of life, we never learn these older skills that can now be done by machines, or if we do, we push them aside and forget about them as we go about our busy days.

It would be interesting for people who are able to do these skills to be able to present them to fellow genealogists so that we could learn more about their ancestors. I’m not sure how this would be done. Would it be a hands on demonstration at a meeting? A YouTube video? Maybe a booklet or lecture talking about that craft? I’m not really sure, I was just thinking that it would be interesting to find out more and have a chance to learn these for yourself if you wanted to.

I have learned some of the older skills, as I’m sure most of us have from time to time. I can cook from scratch and have done some cooking over an open fire while camping, so am confident I could put together at least a basic meal in that manner. I have been slowly teaching myself to can and can now do water bath canning and am eager to learn more about pressure canning when I get a chance. My gardening skills are somewhere in the intermediate level and would be better if only I had more room for a garden! In the needlework area, I do counted cross-stitch and a few embroidery stitches along with basic sewing and mending techniques. I would love to advance into making clothes and quilting, but need somebody to help with one-on-one instruction in that area. I’ve also done countless crafts over the years thanks to my talented mother.

Two skills that I would love to have, but have never been able to learn are crochet and knitting. My mother, although usually a great teacher, cannot teach me. Every time she has attempted over the years, she has gotten impatient that I don’t catch on immediately. How could I not be able to do this being her daughter? I need to have time and a patient teacher who is not related to me to teach me those skills.

I’d also love to learn more carpentry and basic repair type skills. Although I can do simple tasks in these departments, I cannot do anything very complicated.

What skills and crafts would you like to learn? Did your ancestors do them as well or would it be a completely new arena for you? Any of the skills that I have, have been ones that my ancestors would have definitely done. The household tasks, of course, and I know that many of my ancestors have done crafting over the years, especially Mom. As I descend from many, many farmers, the carpentry and repair skills are definitely there, not to mention that my maternal grandfather was a skilled carpenter! So, I am not looking far back to find others that have done the same type of thing. Learning these crafts and finding how things have changed over the years can be an exciting adventure!

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