Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Reconstructing your ancestor’s daily life

Where did someone life?

For the most part our ancestors had ordinary lives. But what was life like for our ancestors? What was a typical day like? What did one eat or wear? How did events impact them?

Traditional sources, such as names and dates, can be a bit dry but social history can put “meat on the bones” so to speak. In a sense we are trying to reconstruct our ancestors' world. One way is to think about their daily life.

Where did an ancestor live? Where someone lived can tell you a lot about what their life was like. Did they live in the country on a small Irish Farm where they made their clothes from thread they spun and wove themselves?
Wikimedia Commons; Irish farm circa 1898.
Or did they live in the city and buy their clothes from a tailor?
Flickr; NLI; Dublin circa 1902.
If they lived on a farm they probably ate the food they grew themselves.
It they lived in the city they probably bought their food from a grocer.

One of my family's ancestors was William Holland. His family tree was the subject of a previous blogpost. However, that family tree has only rudimentary birth, marriage and death information for him. The only interesting information is that he "grew up working on the family farm in Lissycrimeen," County Cork, Ireland. What else is there to learn about where he lived?

Lissycrimeen is on the Seven Heads peninsula between Clonakilty and Courtmacsherry. Lissycrimeen can be seen in green below and the nearby village of Butlerstown is in blue.
National Library of Scotland; Ireland; GSGS 1941; zoomed into Seven Heads.
The 1901 Census of Ireland enumerates William living on his father-in-law's farm in the townland of Butlerstown which borders Lissycrimeen. William, his wife Kate (Sheehy) Holland and their son John were living with Kate's parents, Patrick and Mary (Riordan) Sheehy, on a small farm. It was described in the census as having stone walls, a slate roof, 4 windows in front and 5 rooms. There were 5 outbuildings including a stable, cow house, calf house, dairy and piggery.

William and his family, which now included 3 children, lived on the same farm on the 1911 Census of Ireland as well. However, now the family only occupied 3 rooms of the house but it still had 4 windows in front.  The 5 farm buildings also included a fowl house instead of the calf house. It might have looked like the farm below but with one less window.
Flickr; NLI; Clonmel circa 1906.
Even though I started out with only a few facts I now have a better idea of where William Holland lived. I even know what his farm might have looked like. Next I'll look at William's occupation.

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