How Your Ancestors Survived the Winter

how-your-ancestors-survived-the-winter-find-more-genealogy-blogs-at-familytree-comToday, your family survives the cold winter weather by going indoors and turning on the heat. Most homes now have central heating, which warms the home by sending hot air through vents and into all of the rooms. How did your ancestors survive the winter without central heating?

If your ancestors were Japanese, they used a kotatsu. It is a heating table that is covered with a blanket and that has a heating source located underneath the table. The kotatsu started being used in the 14th century.

Back then, the kotatsu was a charcoal burner that was used for cooking meals. People sat around it in order to keep warm. During the Edo era, the kotatsu became a low table frame that was covered with a thick blanket. The table top sits on the blanket, and the heater is attached to the underside of the table. People sat on cushions around the kotatsu and put the lower halves of their bodies under the blanket.

Roman homes had a hypocaust venting system. Homes were warmed with interior pipes that were laid underneath floors and within walls. This was the earliest version of what we now call centralized heating.

During the Middle Ages, people wore cloaks, scarves, boots, and gloves indoors. Outer clothing was usually made from wool, which was hot, heavy, and itchy. (Linen undergarments helped reduce the itchiness). Their homes were not very warm. Saxon homes had a fire pit in the center and a hole in the roof to vent the smoke through.

American colonists survived the winter by building proper houses that provided more warmth than the huts and cabins the colonists at Jamestown were using. (Many of those colonists did not survive the first winter). By the 1700’s, homes had fireplaces (sometimes in every room). Chimneys were used to vent the smoke. When the season changed, people would begin cutting and stacking firewood that would be used next winter.

Homesteaders built lofts in their homes and placed their beds up there. Hot air rises, and this was the warmest place in the house to sleep. One bed was for the father and the baby. The other bed was for the mother and the rest of the children.

People continued to use fireplaces in the Regency era (1811-1820). As before, the fireplaces required plenty of wood as fuel. People used room screens and fireplace screens as a means of avoiding becoming too hot by the fire or too cold when sitting farther away from it. Even so, a fashionable Regency woman, who wore a thin muslin gown indoors with a shawl for warmth could catch a deadly cold. (It was called “the muslin disease”.)

Related Articles at

* How Your Ancestors Survived Hot Summers

* Flu Season and Other Illnesses

* The History of the Snowman

< Return To Blog

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.