#52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Labor

In honor of Labor Day, Amy Johnson Crow has set this week’s 52 Ancestors prompt as “labor.”

I can tell you, most of my ancestors were farmers, but I have found some interesting professions.

Brentwood Elementary School Teachers, 1956-1957

Teachers at Brentwood Elementary School, 1956-1957. Pap-pa is in the front row with Mam-ma (with the glasses) behind his left shoulder.

My maternal grandparents, Hoyt and Willie Stevens Cook were both teachers, although Pap-pa also farmed and did construction. Once he had a job blasting stumps to clear property for 75 cents a day.

Willie Stevens Cook’s father, James William “Billie” Stevens worked at as a sawyer, sharpening saws at the sawmill. Later he sold men’s suits. My mom said he had samples of fabric that he would show the customers. The men would choose their fabric and Billie would take their measurements and send it all off to be custom made.

Billie Stevens’ wife Mollie worked at home. Her father, according to the 1880 Census, worked with his father-in-law Origen Thompson as a teamster. Origen’s brother Eli, in the 1860 Census was listed as a stage driver; his wife was Georgiana Hammond, whose father Elias Hammond ran one of the stagecoach stations in Stockton, Baldwin County, Alabama.

Malzie Silcox Hahn at work at St. Regis Paper Mill, Escambia County, Florida.

Malzie Silcox Hahn at work at St. Regis Paper Mill, Escambia County, Florida.

My paternal grandparents, Charlie and Malzie Silcox Hahn worked at St. Regis Paper Mill.

Charlie’s dad Theodore was a farmer. His uncle George Herman Hahn was a city fireman and his uncle William Bernhardt Hahn was an electrician for phone company.

Charlie’s grandfather, William Hahn is listed on the 1870 Census as a sea captain, and in later years he appears as a bayman or a laborer.

William’s wife Ary Loper Hahn didn’t work outside the home, according to the census, but her sister was Dr. Martha Caroline Loper Neuman, a physician. Their father, William Hamilton Loper was a laborer.

Theodore Hahn’s wife, Maggie Cooper, was the daughter of Henry Merrit Cooper, who did “work in turpentine” according to the 1880 Census.

It often occurs to me that we have it so much easier than our ancestors did. Most of the women didn’t work outside the home, because working in the home was a lot more work than today. Doing laundry took hours, and they would have cooked everything from scratch. Everyone in a farmer’s house probably helped at harvest time, not to mention they would have kept their own kitchen garden and livestock.

To me, my Pap-pa, Hoyt Cook, epitomizes the Greatest Generation. He never got called up for service but he worked for DuPont and helped build Sherman Field at Naval Air Station Pensacola. He made some sort of deal that involved him picking up food waste from the dining halls at the base and used all that thrown-away food to feed his hogs, then he sold the hogs. For a few years, he and Mam-ma ran a fruit stand, selling some of the stuff they grew and some stuff that they bought from other farmers. My mom says when they’d bring a truckload of fruit or vegetables from out of state, like peaches from Georgia, they’d split it up with other farmer’s markets in the area, and the other farmer’s markets would do the same for them. They always worked hard to provide for their family and save for the future.

It’s a far cry from going to an office job and coming home to my washing machine and a fridge full of easy to cook meals.

This Labor Day, I honor my ancestors for the determination and strength that helped build this country from the ground up.

About Taminar

When I grow up, I want to make movies and write books. Now in my 50s, I wonder if I'll ever really accomplish the dreams of my youth. I have made two short films, one for a college film-making class, the other for an MTV-sponsored contest. I have written short plays that have been produced, and a few short stories and reviews that have been published. I also perform and direct for community theatre. My working life has included stints in local TV news, public relations, retail management and cashier, and for a couple of years, I made the rides go at Walt Disney World. I have two cats and a husband.
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