My interest in history began at Pensacola Junior College (now Pensacola State) with a professor named Dr. Carageorge, who really brought historical events to life and helped place them in the larger context of what was going on in the world.
Now, as I’ve pursued filling in my family tree, I begin to see how my ancestors fit in to some of this world history. That’s really interesting but it’s even more jarring to think about how different their lives were from mine.
When it’s 100 degrees outside, I can’t imagine wearing corsets and long skirts in the centuries before air conditioning (although I did see a chart in a book published in 1871 that showed five years worth of climate data for Jacksonville, Florida, and the temperature never got above 100).
I’ve seen my great-grandmother’s corset (she had a tiny, tiny waistline) and button-up shoes. Imagine doing laundry – without a washing machine – outdoors over a fire in long skirts and a corset with sweat running down your back.
When I was in college, I used to go to the library all the time and look things up in books. As a child, my mom subscribed to the World Book Encyclopedia, and as each new book arrived, I could sit for hours reading about random things that caught my eye as I looked up something else.
Now, it’s so easy to look things up on the internet, and I can still get caught in rabbit holes on Wikipedia. Imagine a time when the nearest library was miles away and you had to walk all the way. The Encyclopedia Britannica has been around since the 18th Century, but I doubt many of my ancestors could have afforded to have a set at home.
When I was growing up, and we lived far away from family, it was a rare treat to talk to grandparents on the phone. I remember when Ma Bell broke up and all the other phone companies started offering calls for 10 cents a minute. That was amazing! When my parents lived in Spain for three years, they never once called home, because it was too expensive. They wrote letters. Mama still talks about how she doesn’t know much about this family story or that Pensacola event because she’d ask her mom in a letter and the reply wouldn’t say much.
Imagine our ancestors traveling hundreds or thousands of miles by boat or wagon knowing that they would never again speak to their relatives and friends back home. Letters were expensive then and it would take a long time for it to get where it’s going and then to get a reply. Today, we send an email or a text or just pick up the phone and call. So quick and simple.
The lives our ancestors lived are so far away from our day-to-day lives today. They weren’t all angels, but I can’t help but admire their resiliency, their strength, and their determination. They built a new country as they built their families, and I hope that I could do half as well as they did if I were put in their shoes.
This post was inspired by the #52Ancestors Week 5 Prompt.