Maybe it is because it is finally summer weather and people are off to the lakes or because I saw a production of “Men on Ice” at the local theatre, but I started about what our ancestors were doing for recreation and fun. These activities would add another layer to our family stories. Let’s look.
It is likely that our early ancestors who were doing the homesteading had little leisure time. However, they did get together with neighbors and once there was a church in the community, it became the center for many of their social activities. Do you have any stories about church social or the church bazaar? Perhaps you helped when you were younger or even help today. These events were a fund raiser and a way to build community.
And what about that fishing? I remember going to a place where bullhead fish were abundant. Dad would put the bait on my bamboo pole and a quick toss of the line into the water resulted in a catch. Of course, I only remember the fun part, not the cleaning of fish. Our early ancestors likely fished too to supplement their food supply. If you are of Scandinavian roots, then you might have the tradition of lutefisk. Depending on your preference, lutefisk is eagerly consumed or looked upon with dread.
My grandparents and parents' generation had friends and neighbors who would picnic at a local lake, hauling fried chicken, potato salad and other goodies to be shared with family and neighbors. I don’t think any of them really swam but the men enjoyed some fishing and the kids loved splashing about in the shallows of the lake. Today many people in my area have lake homes and travel there every weekend to enjoy all the water activities.
Baseball games were played in a community and there was rivalry from neighboring town teams. Young farmers and townspeople played together or sometimes as opposing teams “Town vs Country.” I had a relative that played on a team with uniforms and everything in the early 1910s. When he wasn’t playing ball, he was a hard-working farmer. Do you have any stories about the local kids playing baseball in the cow pastures? If your ancestors lived in town, there were probably other stories like using the local swimming pool, playing in the park, or exploring the neighborhood with all the other neighbor kids. Think about how things have changed in the last fifty years.
County and State Fairs were a big event with many people submitting baked goods, veggies or competing in livestock events. Perhaps you have an ancestor in 4H. Look into what 4H is like today versus the 1950s.
People played cards and got together for dances with music supplied by the local musicians. No Zoom for them. They had to travel to where the entertainment was held. Perhaps one story to tell is the difference that has occurred in just a couple of generations because of technology.
If you are stumped for ideas, try looking at old newspapers for the hometowns where your ancestor lived. There is a lot of visiting going on. Can imagine now having a family of six “drop in” on a Sunday, expecting a meal? Perhaps that is why so many families always cooked extra when making their meals. Look at free sites including:
Chronicling America « Library of Congress (loc.gov)
Small Town Newspaper-A newspaper directory featuring small town newspapers and articles. (smalltownpapers.com)
Here is another fun site to trigger more ideas about the leisure activities of our ancestors.
Great-Grandma Had Fun, Too -- Victorian and Edwardian Leisure Activities (melinadruga.com)
Local and county histories include firsthand accounts of pioneer experiences, including the fun things they did for entertainment. While you might not find your ancestor’s account, perhaps a neighbor or a community account of an event will provide you with information about what was happening where your ancestor lived.
I hope this has given you some ideas. Think about ways to incorporate stories about your family and how they spent those leisure hours. Happy Fishing!
With a lifelong passion for genealogy and history, the author enjoys the opportunity to share genealogy tidbits, inspiring others to research and write their family story.