Wash Day and Our Ancestors

happy day washing(1)On March 28, 1797, Nathaniel Briggs of New Hampshire, was granted a patent by the United States Patent Office for a device listed as “improvement in washing cloathes.” While Briggs is often considered the first inventor to have patented a washing machine, exact proof is difficult to establish: a Patent Office fire in 1836 destroyed many of the early patents and drawings, including that of Briggs.

To get an idea of what the Briggs machine may have looked like, there is speculation that such a machine may have been the basis for William Johnson Folsom and John Hayden’s 1805 patent: a machine with “parallel grids” used to press and squeeze clothing in a water solution. Over the subsequent decades there would be many more innovations in terms of laundry and washing machines.

So while we have no concrete documentation as to what the Briggs machine looked like, or how it may have improved the washing of “cloathes,” we do know that during the 19th century, many improvements were made to the process of laundry. Yes even in the 20th and 21st centuries, doing the “wash” is still a dreaded task, often put off until certain items are needed in order to be considered well-dressed and presentable.

How Did Your Great-Grandmother Do Laundry?
I remember hearing stories from my great-grandmother, who grew up in New York City, about how she and her sisters had to do the laundry for the family. Living in the city did not necessarily mean an easier process and it was much the same as those in the rural areas of America: you used a large wash tub with a scrub board and caustic lye soap. Add hot water, stir, wring out the clothes, rinse out the soap, repeat, etc. And drying clothes was a challenge, especially in the Lower East Side: hang them out the window (and risk dirt and pollution) or use clothes lines rigged up in the one room tenement apartment? And once dry, guess what? They had to be ironed since the days of “wash and wear” had not yet arrived!

Sounds like a lot of work, no? That’s why all the women in the household were involved because it helped speed up the process with more hands involved. As machines were added to the process, including washing machines and clothes wringers, wash day actually became more dangerous. Yes there had always been the danger of being scalded with hot water or burned by lye and other detergents, but now there were gears and levers that could trap a finger or a hand.

When it comes to doing laundry, to say that “we’ve come a long way baby” is not an exaggeration. Consider that most of us have access to modern machines that can agitate clothes at different levels, better detergents for cleaning, and dryers that can have clothes finished and ready to wear in no time. We can all thank Nathanial Briggs and subsequent inventors of washing machines and related laundry machinery for making a necessary chore so much easier to perform!

To get an idea of the evolution of Wash Day and how, in fact, ensuring clean clothes for the family was a day-long process prior to washing machines, look at Save Womens Lives: History of Washing Machines by Lee M. Maxwell. The author, an electrical engineer with a fascination for washing machines, not only gives a detailed account of the development of improvements in the mechanical process of cleaning clothes, but recounts the history of how women performed the laundry chores. Maxwell also runs the on-line Washing Machine Museum which offers images of early machines and patent information.

© 2014, copyright Thomas MacEntee
Thomas MacEnteeThomas MacEntee is a frequent guest blogger for Saving Memories Forever. He is also a genealogy professional specializing in the use of technology and social media to improve genealogical research and as a means of interacting with others in the family history community. For more information visit http://hidefgen.com.


Tools to Preserve Family Oral History

Some messages don’t change over time. When Thomas MacEntee first wrote this blog post last year, the timing seemed especially appropriate. September is, after all, National Disaster Preparedness Month. This March, as the weather continues to be unpredictable (at best) we thought that it was a good time to consider safeguarding the various files and data created as part of any oral history project.

As Ed McMann used to say ….here’s Johnny (Thomas)!

Data Backup Basics

SanDisk_Cruzer_MicroIf you have any family history data – documents, scanned photos and audio files – you will want to make sure you have a backup copy, and preferably stored in more than one place. Never rely upon just one backup location such as the cloud or an external hard drive. Stuff happens. Cloud sites go out of business. USB flash drives are lost. Make sure you have multiple backups.

A smart move is to go for the Data Backup Triple Play as I call it:

Out #1 is to download data from a website to your computer hard drive. This protects you from the website going out of business or being hacked into.

Out #2 is to backup that same data to an external device. This means copy to a CD/DVD, MDisc, a USB flash drive or an external hard drive.

Out #3 is to copy the data to at least one cloud computing storage site such as Box or Dropbox.

Your data stored at Saving Memories Forever is safe and backed up nightly on our servers. Also, don’t forget that Premium Subscribers of Saving Memories Forever can download their stories on the Saving Memories Forever website for free! Free subscribers can purchase the same ability for $12.95 for a three-month period.

Future Proofing Your Data

One area of data backup and technology that is not often discussed is the area of future proofing data. What exactly does this mean? Future proofing refers to ensuring that various data formats are accessible in the future.

Here’s an example: do you remember 3.5” diskettes or the 5.5” floppy diskette version from the 1980s and 1990s? Perhaps you still have family history data and even audio files saved to these diskettes. Can you still access that data? Did you copy those files to your hard drive or to a newer data format for easy access?

Being pro-active in terms of future proofing is staying on top of the latest data storage technology, including audio file formats, and then copying the data from the soon-to-be-outdated format to a newer and more common format.

Don’t wait until different data storage media and file formats are outdated. If you do, you’ll have to use third-party services that will convert your data for you, often for a fee.

Keep The Legacy Train Moving Forward

And now after all your hard work and your preparations to protect your data, have you thought about what will happen to all of it once you’ve left this earth and have become an ancestor yourself? One of the most troublesome areas right now is this: other family members don’t understand the value of collected family history research and simply dispose of it in the trash once a person has died.

Don’t let your work be in vain! Focus on these two areas: passing the family history torch on to another family member and adding specific instructions in your estate planning papers about the disposal of your research.

Tips and Tricks for Oral History Preservation

Here is some helpful advice on safeguarding your oral history data and information:

  • Create multiple backups. The phrase “never put all your eggs in one basket” applies to data files as well. Even if you have your audio files as part of Saving Memories Forever, make sure you’ve exported them and saved them in various places including a cloud data program, a flash drive and a CD/DVD.
  • Future proof your data. Make sure you are using one of the latest file formats for audio files and storing the files on accessible media such as DVD or in the cloud, instead of diskettes.
  • Transcribe your interviews. Yes this can be time consuming. Yes this is not the same as hearing a family members voice. But rather than have the interview be lost forever, take time to transcribe the conversation. At Saving Memories Forever, you can upload your transcribed interview to a Transcription file on the SavingMemoriesForever.com website. There is a transcription file for each story.
  • Preserve the legacy chain. Have you made plans for all your hard work and collected information after you’ve died? Find a family member who is willing to preserve the information you’ve prepared. Also consider donating items to a local historical or genealogical society.

© 2013, copyright Thomas MacEntee

downloadThomas MacEntee is a genealogy professional specializing in the use of technology and social media to improve genealogical research and as a means of interacting with others in the family history community. For more information visit http://hidefgen.com.

A Girl Scout in the Family

girl scouts at the white house

On March 12, 1912, the first Girl Scout meeting was held in Savannah, Georgia when Juliette Gordon Low brought 18 young women together to form a troop. Low’s focus was to provide opportunities to young women and ensure their physical, mental and spiritual development.

The vision that Low had, starting with that first meeting, was an organization that was “girl-centered.” What started with just 18 girls has grown to an organization with over 3.2 million girls and adults. According to the Girl Scouts of America, there are over 59 million women in the United States today who can be claimed as Girls Scouts alumnae.

The Girl Scouts of America was patterned after the popular Girl Guides organization in Britain, but by 1920 had developed its own distinct uniform, handbook and organizational structure. By then, there were 70,000 girl scouts across the country.

During the Great Depression, many troops focused on community service including food drives and providing meals to those in need. Also in the 1930s, with a focus on age appropriate activities, Girl Scouts were split into divisions including the Brownies. And did you know that ithe first Girl Scout cookies were commercially baked in the 1930s?

With the arrival of World War II, community service included scrap metal drives, learning how to grow Victory Gardens as well as how to handle blackouts and air raid drills.

The 1950s and 1960s is when the organization saw its largest growth, thanks to the post-war Baby Boom. As the Girl Scouts continued to grow towards the end of the 20th century, activities included computers and developing technology skills for young women. And now in the 21st century, new badges such as Global Awareness and Environmental Health reflect the challenges women, and all of us, will face in the coming decades.

Did the Girl Scouts Play a Role in Your Family?

For many families, the Girl Scouts were a big part of “growing up” in the United States. More and more family historians are discovering that memories of being a Girl Scout and participating in activities make for great family stories.

Here are some interview questions, writing/journaling prompts and project ideas:

  • Which of your ancestors were members of the Girl Scouts? What is the earliest instance you can find of a family member participating in Girl Scouts?
  • Do you have a current family member who was or is involved in the Girl Scouts? Consider interviewing your older relatives (using Saving Memories Forever, of course) and ask them what it was like to be a Girl Scout as they grew up. Discuss the skills they developed.
  • Have you inherited a box of Girl Scout items such as sashes, uniforms, handbooks and more? Contact your local troop and ask if they would be interested in the items for their archives. If not, create a video or slide show describing the items and who in your family owned them.
  • Were you a Girl Scout? Record your own memories in a variety of formats including audio, digital images and in writing.

© 2014, copyright Thomas MacEntee

Thomas MacEntee

Thomas MacEntee is a genealogy professional specializing in the use of technology and social media to improve genealogical research and as a means of interacting with others in the family history community. He is a frequent guest blogger for SavingMemoriesForever.com. For more information visit http://hidefgen.com.

Memories Frozen In Time: Clarence Birdseye and Frozen Foods

birdseye-clarenceOn March 6, 1930, General Foods brought Birds Eye brand frozen peas to the consumer market in 18 stores in the Springfield, Massachusetts area. Clarence Birdseye, who many consider the “father of modern frozen food,” was responsible for changing the way our ancestors ate and how their food was preserved.

Do you remember when frozen foods became more popular in American culture during the 1950s? When TV dinners were all the rage and were seen as a novelty more than a convenience food? Let’s take a walk down the frozen food aisle and see what memories we can find . . .

A Brief History of Modern Frozen Food

Birdseye was a scientist and inventor who created a better way to freeze food in order to retain its freshness, taste and appearance. Prior to the development of his “flash freezing” techniques, frozen foods were often damaged by the freezing process and proved unpopular with the consumer market. Birdseye was inspired by freezing methods he learned while on an ice fishing expedition in parts of Canada.

In 1927, Birdseye patented a method of flash freezing and packaging certain foods such as vegetables. A few years after the 1930 debut of his products, frozen foods were introduced on a nationwide basis once insulated railroad cars were produced to ship products. More changes in the grocery store landscape soon took place once display cases were manufactured which could display frozen foods to the consumer as they shopped. By the early 1950s, the majority of grocery stores in the United States had a “frozen foods” section.

How Did Our Ancestors Preserve Food?

Food preservation was a constant challenge for our ancestors especially when the winter season set in and it was impractical to grow certain foods or to hunt for game. Prior to freezing foods for later consumption, our ancestors would either smoke or dry meats and vegetables or use salt as a preservation method.

One method of food preservation that was likely popular with your family was the use of canning jars. In many rural, farm-based communities, the canning season would begin in mid-summer once berries, fruits and vegetables were ready to be harvested. The ability to eat these foods at a later date no doubt contributed to better nutrition; prior to the advent of home canning, families survived on root vegetables, potatoes and apples, stored in the basement root cellar.

And in the warmer climates, dehydrating items such as grapes and plums was also common. Often, however, such methods produced a less-than-fresh flavor and consistency – a problem that frozen foods seemed to solve.

Frozen Foods: From Novelty to Convenience

Clarence Birdseye’s invention certainly seemed impractical at first; consumers couldn’t imagine buying foods that were frozen when they could either get them fresh or, during winter months, as canned foods (if they hadn’t canned their own items!). By the 1950s, the “TV dinner” consisting of a full meal, even with dessert, was still a novelty. If you grew up eating them, your mother thought they were great because it meant she didn’t need to prepare dinner that night, and as a kid you got a kick out of a foil-wrapped meal right out of the oven.

Fast forward two decades and as more women entered the workforce and families seemed to be always on the go, paired with the availability of the microwave oven, frozen foods were more about convenience. Add in the focus on dieting in the 1980s (with Lean Cuisine and Healthy Choice meals), and frozen foods were no longer novel, but had become a staple.

Also consider how the advent of frozen food changed the way we purchased refrigerators . . . they now needed larger freezers to accommodate the new frozen foods. Even large chest freezers were developed and sold to consumers allowing them to buy foods in bulk and freeze for later consumption.

Finally, in the 21st century, the “foodies” demanded freshness and the best quality in food and ethnic dishes and even organic foods can be found in the frozen food aisle of most grocery stores.

© 2014, copyright Thomas MacEntee

Thomas MacEnteeThomas MacEntee is a genealogy professional specializing in the use of technology and social media to improve genealogical research and as a means of interacting with others in the family history community. He is a frequent guest blogger for SavingMemoriesForever.com. For more information visit http://hidefgen.com.

A Reminder

This month’s tip is actually going to be a reminder of sorts.

First, I want to say congratulations to Jane and Harvey Baker for winning the Developer’s Challenge at RootsTech 2014. I want to use their success story as a starting point for my message this month.

Just before Harvey and Jane accepted their award, FamilySearch played a lovely video. The video showed Harvey and Jane sitting on their couch talking about why and how they started the process. Then there was a portion explaining Saving Memories Forever and all it offers.

Well, we all know that even though it was a nice video, the video barely scratches the surface. From the budding seed of the idea, to the scratching of the head as they jumped hurdles, figured out the financials, launched, trouble shooted, marketed, pushed forward and now, success.  A lot goes on behind the scenes.

You know what I mean. One letter on a report card is actually the fruit of much late night work, cheerleading, and conversation.  A gold medal is years and years of grueling dedication and perseverance.

The family, in the car next to you, is actually made up of millions of words, experiences, tears and smiles.

Most everything we see is actually just a small dot of what really is there.

It‘s that way with the Saving Memories Forever App.  It is extremely simple to download; it is user friendly and within minutes you are up and running and gathering your family’s stories.

But here is what you may not see…and this is where the reminder comes in.

There is a whole system behind the Saving Memories Forever App that you need to tap into. The App provides great mobility for interviewing, but this is just the dot! You can easily upload to secure and private storage on the Saving Memories Forever website. Listen to your recorded and uploaded stories and also use the website to share and “manage” your stories.  You can invite people to listen or burn a CD and share it or give it as a gift.  The list goes on and on.

So, this month, the tip is…dig a little deeper! Enjoy ALL that Saving Memories Forever has to offer.

Now, go tell your story…you were designed to.