Friday, May 10, 2013

Taking on your Ancestors Lives

I just discovered the BBC show "Turn Back Time" at YouTube. British families go back in time and live like their ancestors did. They begin in the early 20th Century. Most of the participants didn't know anything about  their great-grandparents lives. The families were grouped into social classes ie, working class, middle-class, and upper-class. The participants were all surprised about where their family backgrounds landed them. This got me thinking about which group I would be a part of. Looking at my family beginning in 1900 this is where they were in society:

  1. Frank Kappel and Maria Kurta were shifting from place to place in the early twentieth century as many immigrant families did. Frank worked various general labor jobs in Pennsylvania before the family relocated to Chicago in 1909, and he got work at Pullman. He worked as a punch press operator until his death in the 1930's. Maria also worked from time to time at Pullman sweeping up. Maria had 11 children and didn't spend that much time working. She made several trips back to her home village in Hungary. So if I lived her life I would probably have spent many years taking care of infants, cooking and cleaning in small lower class multi-family housing in Chicago. 
  2. Willliam Forgey and Isis Forgey lived on their own farm in Indiana. If I lived Isis life I would also have been kept busy raising a family and doing farm wife chores like canning. William and Isis did employ a neighbor girl as a servant at one point. Isis was also an active member of the Methodist Church. Her life may have been a little better than my Kappel great-grandmother.
  3. Frank Mason and Helen Mullen. Frank Mason was a house painter in Chicago. Helen worked as a servant in the household of Courtney Kleman, a stock trader, and his wife Minnie in 1900. This was a common job for first generation Irish women. After her marriage in 1905 she settled down to raise a family. Her husband died young forcing Helen to return to work. She took in laundry and was described as a laundress in the 1920 Census. She later worked cleaning classrooms. She even continued her cleaning job after breaking her arm. So if I had lived Helen's life I would have made my way from Ireland to America alone and worked for Courtney Kleman in the early 20th Century, and continued in the same sort of work off and on through out my life.
  4. Nicasio Del Castillo and Elena Garcia. I would be living in Nicaragua if I lived Elena's life. Her husband Nicasio was a Lawyer as I have heard? I have not confirmed that yet. My grandmother said that her mother spent most of her time sewing and embroidering. The native Indian population was exploited for cheap labor. Anyone with any resources could employ Indians to cook, clean etc.. 
I don't think I would like to reenact the lives of any of my female ancestors. They did have some interesting experiences such as migrating to this country from Austro-Hungary and Ireland. Money isn't everything but it does smooth our way through life as I think Miss Marple said?

My Great-grandmother's employer was Courtney Kleman. She live in his household as a servant in 1900.
She was 19 yrs. old on the 1900 Census.

No comments: