Saturday, April 25, 2015

Traffic Jams

Driving in traffic during my 20-mile, 40-minute morning and afternoon commutes gives me time to think, ponder, and muse, especially when the traffic comes to a halt because of an accident or some other traffic problem.  As I inched along at a few miles an hour the other afternoon, I began to wonder if there were traffic jams during horse-and-carriage days.  I remembered a 10-minute video taken in San Francisco before the earthquake.  After watching it again, I realized it doesn't exactly show traffic jams but it gives a sense of the lack of traffic laws a century ago when the automobile was still new.

I'm not sure why but I love watching this video.  Perhaps it's the surprise of real video footage in 1906 or maybe it's the casual way in which automobiles, horses-and-carriages, trolleys, and pedestrians mix. 

I found the following passage about horse-and-carriage traffic jams in A New Republic:  A History of the United States in the Twentieth Century by John Lukacs at Google Books.
Had the automobile not been invented and put into mass production, the cities of the early twentieth century would have experienced even worse traffic jams of horse-drawn carriages, with entire armies of poor sweepers required to clean the streets of mountains of horse droppings at night.  Traffic jams in the great cities of the world preceded automobile traffic jams by half a century at least.  Traffic counts taken at a fashionable thoroughfare in Paris at the beginning and at the end of the grossly inflated era of the Second Empire [1852-1870] showed a nearly threefold increase of carriages in twenty years.  Around 1900 many of the main thoroughfares of American cities were as crowded as they are now, by horse-drawn carriages and trolley cars.

No more wondering if there were pre-automobile traffic jams.  I don't know of any ancestors who lived in large cities so perhaps they didn't have the experience of traffic jams or horse-and-carriage accidents.  As for me, I have seen accidents where cars with their metal and fiberglass frames were crashed and crushed and people were hurt.  Imagine the challenges involved when horses were involved.

I also found this brief video of horse and cart traffic in Central London in the 1890s (better viewed at the Huntley Archives website where the film isn't overshadowed by the watermark in the background).

Traffic jams and rush-hour traffic aren't fun, especially when the traffic slows to 5 or 10 miles/hour but I have to admit that we have traffic laws that make our roads seem much safer than those shown in the two videos above.  And even when the traffic slows, I'm probably going at the speed of a horse-drawn carriage.  All things considered, I'll take today's automobiles for my 20-mile drive with their comfort and speed, even at the occasional 10 miles/hour, over a daily commute in a carriage behind a horse.

How about you?


Copyright © 2015 Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Just That Fast!

A pop!  A flash!  And then pouf!  Just that fast, my monitor went black and the computer quit.  Too late I realized the lightening was close enough to strike the power line to my computer.  That was two weeks ago.

I'm grateful for blessings both large and small:
  1. I had a back-up (2 weeks old but still, a back-up).
  2. It didn't kill my whole computer, just the power supply.  (Or so we thought.)
  3. I had a friend willing and able to help.
My computer-geek-friend, as he calls himself, determined the problem was the power supply, ordered a new one, and installed it.  When I picked it up he told me about a new computer virus which encrypts photos (and other files, too, I think).  One can unencrypt (is that the correct word?) them by paying a $500.00 fee to get a code.  I brought my computer home and promptly made a new back-up before connecting to the internet.  When I finally connected to the internet I learned that my provider (TWC) was doing routine maintenance, scheduled to last 24-48 hours.  When it lasted longer than that, I called and spoke with someone at TWC and learned that the adapter inside my computer that connects to the internet was not working.  My computer-geek-friend came over and diagnosed the problem.  We determined that an external USB adapter would be the best choice for my 8-year-old computer.

I don't have any other means of connection to the internet just now but since the hinge on my old cell phone is broken (Don't problems come in threes?  What will it be?) perhaps my next phone will be a smart phone with internet connection.  Maybe I'm about to join the modern age.  Maybe.

Well, it's lovely to see you again, friends!  I'm happy to be able to read your blogs, learn the news in the genealogy world, and start posting again.


P.S.  Back-up, back-up, back-up.
P.P.S.  Unplug if you see lightening anywhere in the sky.

Copyright © 2015 Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Friday, April 3, 2015

Early Wheels

The only surviving photo of the tricycle of my childhood, possibly the only photo ever taken of it, was the one at right.  Truly, it's a photograph of our Boxer, Lady, getting into my mom's clothespin basket on our back porch.  The tricycle is just part of the background.  Still, I was thrilled to find the photo. 

I loved that trike.  It was big, probably about 20 inches wide, and it was sturdy with a platform on the back where a friend could stand and hold on while I pedaled us along.  Because it was so big I rode it till I graduated to a regular-sized bicycle.

There were only two drawbacks to my tricycle.  The first was that our driveway was gravel.  It was too hard to pedal and I eventually gave up trying.

The second problem was that the other easily accessible, flat, smooth place to ride was our back sidewalk.  It extended from the driveway, across our back yard to the neighbor's porch, so it was a nice long stretch.  It was great for one person to walk along but it was a problem for my trike.  What was the problem?  It was exactly -- exactly! -- the width of the back wheels on my trike.  If I steered very carefully I could stay on the sidewalk.  If not, one or the other of the back wheels went into the little groove beside the sidewalk.  I either had to push hard on the pedals to get it our of the rut or get off the trike, haul it back onto the sidewalk, and get on again.  I think that narrow sidewalk helped develop my steering abilities.

Fast forward to my first bicycle.  It was a hand-me-down:  it had been my sister's before it had been mine, and my aunt's before it had been hers.  Probably built in the late 1930s or early 1940s, it was a black, heavy, wide-wheeled, clunky bike with a wide seat and wide handlebars.  No photos of that bike exist, either, but the one below (except for its rust) looks very similar to it in style.

What I remember most about the bike is that I desperately wanted to ride it when I was too short to sit on the seat and pedal.  I suppose it was at least a 24" bike and, therefore, not one a 6-year-old could easily ride.  But I was determined.  I would walk it over to the porch steps, step onto the first or second step, get my feet on the pedals, and somehow practice balancing.  It didn't take me long to get the hang of balancing and pedaling, standing on the pedals because I was too short to sit.  I was off.  I can only guess the panic my mom might have felt.  Still, what a sense of accomplishment I felt.

One summer my brother, good brother that he was, took it apart, sanded it, and painted it fire engine red for me.  It wasn't quite like having a new bike but then, I didn't need a new bike as long as I had a usable bike to ride.

That bike had a twin boy's bike which my brother rode.  I wonder whatever happened to those bikes....  I wonder what memories my brother and sister have of riding them.

This is a post for Sepia Saturday 273.  Pedal over to find links to other bloggers' old photos and memories.


Copyright © 2015 Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, March 30, 2015

A Midwife's Tale:  The Diary, the Book, the Film, the Websites

I learned of midwife Martha Ballard a number of  years ago when a friend recommended I read Laural Thatcher Ulrich's book, A Midwife's Tale:  The Life of Martha Ballard Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812.  Since I have a midwife great-grandmother I thought it would be interesting reading even though their lives were nearly a century apart.  As it turned out, my great-grandmother and Martha seemed to have little in common other than helping mothers give birth to babies but, nonetheless, I found the book compelling reading.  Ulrich includes entries from the diary then interprets and discusses them, adding information and informing our understanding of the environment and times in which Martha lived.

Last year I learned that American Experience on PBS Home Video had available "A Midwife's Tale," which is based on Martha's Diary and Ulrich's book.  I promptly reserved it at our local library and watched it.  I thought it was exquisite.  I felt like I'd jumped back to rural Maine in the late 1700s.  It is narrated by Ulrich with music by Orison and shape-note singing by Word of Mouth Chorus.  As with her diary, the focus was not exclusively devoted to the duties of a midwife but included Martha's own family, her garden, her animals, keeping her house, making fabric and clothes, the weather, etc.

Further research led me to a website devoted to Martha Ballard's Diary:  DoHistory, "a site that shows you how to piece together the past from the fragments that have survived.  Our case study:  Martha Ballard."  At this website you can learn more about Martha, see digital images of her diary, and read about the creation of the film.  On Process of Making a Historical Film, you can learn about the research that went into making the movie and the efforts for historical accuracy.  I really like the thought that "the past is a foreign place" because it helped me realize how seriously the producer/writer, Laurie Kahn-Leavitt, took the making of this film and how important it was to strive for accuracy. 

Additionally, you can visit PBS's website, American Experience : A Midwife's Tale where you can find links to even more information about the film including links to special features,

I can't say enough good about the book and the film.  They go hand-in-hand, one with the written word, the other bringing the written word to life.  If you have female ancestors who lived during the mid- to late-1700s into the early 1800s, you won't want to miss reading this book and watching the film to find a deeper understanding of the lives of the women among your ancestors.


Copyright © 2015 Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Women in My Family, for Women's History Month

Women's History Month is drawing to a close and I realized that I haven't written a post about the women in my family.  I thought I'd honor some of my known foremothers by writing just one thing about each.  Of the women in the collage below I knew personally only my mother and her mother, the two on the top left. 
Left to right, top row then bottom row:
Audrey Meinzen Doyle, Emma Bickerstaff Meinzen, Mary Thompson Bickerstaff, Elizabeth Armitage Meinzen,
Beulah Gerner Doyle, Elvira Bartley Gerner, Tressa Froman Doyle, Elizabeth Laws Doyle
Audrey Meinzen Doyle, my mother, was probably the first woman in her family to receive a post-secondary degree.  She became a nurse.

Emma Bickerstaff Meinzen, my maternal grandmother, had a four-leaf clover patch in her back yard.  What luck!

Mary Thompson Bickerstaff, my maternal great-grandmother, worried that her husband wouldn't love her when she grew old.

Elizabeth Armitage Meinzen, my mother's paternal grandmother, immigrated to the U.S. in 1864 and was the mother of 15 children.

Beulah Gerner Doyle, my paternal grandmother, was a milliner before she married.

Elvira Bartley Gerner, my father's maternal grandmother, acted as a midwife and harnessed and drove her own rubber-tired buggy.

Tressa Froman Doyle, my father's paternal grandmother, made and gave my father a beautiful Double Wedding Ring quilt.

Other female ancestors include Elizabeth Laws Doyle, Catherine Saylor Froman, Elizabeth Stahl Gerner, Rebecca Smith Bartley, Eliza Hartley Armitage, Emma Nelson Bickerstaff, Lydia Bell Thompson, Martha Ray Doyle, Elizabeth Thompson Laws, Susannah Holmes Bickerstaff, Mary Richardson Thompson, and Lydia Fithen Bell.

Knowing these ladies lived means the world to me.  I look forward to learning more about them.


Copyright © 2015 Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

From Horses to Tractor

Barn on the Doyle Farm.  Photo taken about 1992.
I knew little about the workings of the dairy farm of my father's childhood in Stoneboro -- Dad rarely spoke of his youth -- so several years after he died I contacted his half-sister to learn more.  I wrote lists of questions and she patiently and thoroughly responded.  (Those letters are treasures to me now for all the family history information they contain.)  We corresponded by mail for a few months and then arranged a visit to Stoneboro.  She took us to see and explore the farm of their childhood.  The barn, unused for many years, was in a sad state of disrepair.

About farm work during the fall and winter months my aunt wrote,
The farm machinery had to be checked over and repaired, if needed, before storing it for winter.  The farming was all done by horses . . .
The 1927 Pennsylvania Census tells me that of Gust Doyle's 140 acres he devoted 35 to corn, wheat, oats, and Irish potatoes.  An additional 21 acres were given over to hay for the horses and the farm's 24 cows. 

Farming with horses was labor-intensive.  In addition to the work of plowing and harvesting, part of the work included the care and feeding of the animals and care of the harnesses, not to mention the work of harnessing and unharnessing the horses each day. 

I wish I'd asked my aunt about the horses.  Perhaps they were Belgians, like the ones shown here.

My aunt's letter continued,
. . . until we bought our first Fordson Tractor.  I don’t remember when that was – about 1930 – I think. 

Fordson tractors were manufactured in the U.S. from 1917 to 1920 by Henry Ford & Sons, Inc.  At right is an advertisement (with enlargement below) for a new Fordson tractor from the May 27, 1918, issue of the Youngstown Vindicator.  

Gust was 28 when this advertisement was published.  I wonder if he learned of the tractors from a newspaper ad similar to this one or by word of mouth.  Was his first view of a Fordson in Pittsburgh or another nearby city at a showing like the one advertised, at a county or state fair, or at the farm of a neighbor who had already purchased one?  Did a group of farmers gather around the new machine to debate the pros and cons of a tractor over horses, or had they already made up their minds that a tractor was a definite improvement over horses, the only other considerations being repairs, buying gasoline, the cost, and having the money in one lump sum?  

From my aunt's letters I know that Gust and his family already owned a Model T Ford.  Perhaps he already had the skills and knowledge to keep a tractor in good running order.  Unless he purchased the tractor from England, whose production of them extended from 1920, it's likely the Fordson he purchased was a used model.  Even so....

How exciting it must have been for Gust and his family to have a tractor! 

How I wish I had contemporary photographs of Gust on the tractor.  Lacking one, the story is less personal.  Still, I'm pleased to have found bits and pieces from other resources to create the history of Gust Doyle, his farm, and a Fordson tractor. 

How I wish I knew what happened to the horses.

Drive on over to Sepia Saturday 272 to see what others are sharing in this week's posts.;

Unaltered image of Belgian horses courtesy of Dave in Lincolnshire.
Color photo of Fordson tractor courtesy of Wikipedia.


Copyright © 2015 Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

They Survived Victorian England!

Having recently finished reading Ruth Goodman's How to Be a Victorian:  A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Victorian Life my amazement and gratitude know no bounds:  I have ancestors who lived in and survived the Victorian era in England.

On my sidebar under "About Me" I wrote, "Sometimes I want to jump back in time, into the lives of my ancestors.  Not to stay, of course -- too many modern conveniences I'd rather not do without -- but to meet them and watch their interactions with each other...."  That statement is more true now than it has ever been.  I'm pleased to read about what life may have like 150 years ago but I'm grateful that I live in these modern, enlightened times with such extensive knowledge about diet, health, medicine, etc.

Reading Goodman's book immerses one in the day-to-day activities, complexities, and simplicities of Victorian life from the time a person arose in the morning until bedtime.  In this 440-page book there is both depth and breadth.  The reader learns about living conditions, food and diet, work, leisure, health and illness, personal care, school, clothing, and so much more. For example:
  • It is possible to effectively clean one's teeth with soot.
  • Windows were left open in all types of weather to ensure enough oxygen to live through the night.
  • Cold baths were thought to harden the body and make the bather more resilient to common illness and disease. 
  • If there was meat -- possibly a strip of bacon -- at a meal it was eaten by the primary breadwinner. 

I have two known Victorian ancestor families from both sides of my family.

First:  My great-grandmother Elizabeth Armitage was born in 1852 in Yorkshire.  Her parents were Abel Armitage and Eliza Hartley.  Abel lived until at least 1880 but Eliza died between 1852 and about 1859.  Abel was a coal miner during some of the years he lived in England.  Elizabeth, her sister Ann, her father, step-mother and half siblings all immigrated to the U.S. in 1864.

Second:  William Doyle, born in 1863, and his parents, Andrew Doyle and Elizabeth Jane Laws lived in Northumberland.  William is my great-grandfather.  Both Andrew and William were coal miners.  Andrew brought his family to the United States in 1869 and 1870 where he again took up coal mining, at least for a while.

I know little about the siblings and parents of Abel, Eliza, Andrew, and Elizabeth Jane, but certainly they lived in Victorian England, too.  Sturdy individuals, all.

My only disappointment with the book was that it has no notes of any kind nor citations at the end.  Goodman includes a lengthy list of contemporary publications she used as source material but a reader would be hard-pressed to determine volume, date, page, etc. if he or she wished to find a particular topic in those resources.  Despite that, I recommend How to Be a Victorian if you'd like to learn more about how your Victorian ancestor may have lived between 1840 and the early 1900s.

I continue to marvel that my Victorian-born ancestors survived the challenges of the era.


Copyright © 2015 Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...