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Your Great Grandparents Did ‘What’ ?

The great thing about doing your family history is not just gathering names and dates, but rather learning more about our ancestors’ daily lives. One very interesting period of time to explore is that of the Victorian era – 1840s to 1900, whether in Europe or America, many people followed some strange and bazaar, yet accepted behaviors.

First their tastes in food. Just about all parts of an animal captured or raised for food was consumed. That would include eating the tongue, heart and brain of cattle, stewed rabbit or having turtle soup. Meals were also served in a set pattern. On Mondays the same meal was served as was the previous Monday and the Monday before that and so on. Vegetables were not eaten very often other than those living on a vegetable farm.

Photography had become very popular. However if a relative had not had their picture taken and they suddenly died, the family had a post-mortem photograph taken of the person. Some were just of the decease, especially a child and at other times even living family members were also in the photo. If you have come across a family photo from the 1800s and the person appears ‘strange’ and especially many flowers surrounding them – that could be the reason.

Literature was wonderful form of entertainment with an increase in the number of people who could read. A certain type of literature became popular in many countries, that of the Gothic novel. Here would be horror, suspense, thrilling and shocking events, along with touches of romance. Some of the most famous writers of the mid-to-late 1800s produced Dr. Jerkyll and Mr. Hyde, Dracula, Frankenstein and of course who could forget the tales written by Charles Dickens and Edgar Allen Poe. Our great grandparents loved reading this type of material.

Another form of entertainment was dressing up in outrageous costumes and pretending to be different fictional characters. Being a fairy, an angel, an elf, a man-eating wolf, a nymph, a Roman god, were all possibilities. Attending freak shows was considered a great time. Most people who made up the freak show had some extraordinary disease or conditions that gave them a different appearance. The first Siamese twins toured the world and were a huge hit. The English ‘Elephant Man’ had unusual growths over his body making him considered a freak.

Games included “Statues,” where everyone had to suddenly freeze in some extreme position, and whoever laughed or broke the pose was eliminated. Transportation improved using the penny-farthing bicycle in 1870. It had a huge front 6-foot wheel, the tiny wheel in the back and no brakes.

Medical care and certainly surgery was very risky. Doctors did not have anesthesia and having any type of sanitation was unheard of. With no pain-killers a patient was just held down on a table by assistants known as ‘dressers’. To help different physical conditions such as a cough, stomach pains or toothache, doctors prescribed heroin, cocaine and opium. Suddenly no more problems!

Hard to believe, but this was how many of our ancestors 100 to 150 years ago lived.

Photo: Penny-farthing bicycle

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