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Shocking Things to Learn about Your Ancestors


shock-weddingSometimes you think you know all about your great grandmother or a great uncle, but the part that might shock you the most to learn is their everyday life style, the social customs of the day. Things have changed over the last 50 plus years and so has how people act in their everyday lives.

Here are some examples of some surprising elements that may have been part of your ancestors’ daily life and most of which I have found myself in my family tree.

There was little or no divorce, a rather common event in the last 40 years, it was not acceptable years ago. Not that a couple always stayed together, they might separate, live in different households, but rarely legally divorced. One or both might even have a new person in their life or in the household, but legally could not marry.

Many a couple in their youth did have to face a quick wedding because the bride was pregnant. You might find it hard to believe that your grandparents engaged in such behavior in 1900, but they did. Check the wedding date with the birth date of the first child — you’ll see it was quite common occurrence.

stock-childrenThe sending off of young children in a family to live with other relatives or neighbors was another common practice. That explains why you might not see in a federal census a specific ancestor as a child in the main family household anymore. Then to track them down to another unknown household can be difficult. Included is the fact that many children also worked in factories having maybe only a 5th grade education.

Young couples married in their teens. Another common practice, especially for girls to marry when they were 14 to 16 years old — something today we would consider unacceptable. That is a reason to really check birth and marriage records, the ages of individuals was changed to make them appear older.

In the 1900 federal census is the question of an adult female of how many children she gave birth to and how many were still living in 1900. When you see the difference in numbers, it shows how babies or infants didn’t live to be even young children or adults. Diseases were the main factor in those early deaths.

There were illegitimate children where the mother never married the child’s father. That could be because the man was already married, or he was just passing through the town, or the female was a servant in the household to be used by the head of the house how he chose.

shock-elderlyAny elder relative or sickly person was cared for in the family household. There were no assisted living facilities, no rest homes, no hospitals for long-term care. Usually the wife of the son of an elder parent spent all her time caring for the in-law.

There were institutions for the insane, or what were thought to be ‘insane’ people. If a woman was going through the ‘change of life’ the husband many times sent her to such a facility just so he would not have to ‘deal with her condition’.

Just a few examples of the life events that many of our ancestors experienced. See what you can find and do include it in the family history. It really happened and should be noted.

Photos: Wedding in 1900, children in 1920s and elderly care in home in 1910.

Related genealogical blogs:

19th Century America


Strange Medical ‘Cures’


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