Salleretes Anyone?

On the outside of a sheet of paper with notes giving common English expressions, such as “Good Morning,” along with their German equivalents my great-great gradmother wrote recipes in Old German for ginger snap cookies and gingerbread. This was in the day before our modern baking powder.  So what was used in its place for leavening?  “Salleretes” or more properly Saleratus—aerated salt—made by exposing a carbonate substance to CO2. It was produced domestically from the middle of the 19thcentury.  The recipes, or receipts as they were called in those days, are rather sketchy, the assumption being made that the cook would already be familiar with what to do with the ingredients.

A teacup of molasses, half a cup of sugar, half a cup of butter, half a cup of warm water.

Melt the butter with a small teaspoon of “Salleretes” and make it quite thin. Then a large spoonful of ginger and make the dough stiff and put it in the mold.  [Most likely a cast iron cookie mold].

 

White ginger bread!  [white because it is made with white flour]

A cup of flour, a cup of butter, 1 1/2 cups molasses, a cup of milk, a big spoonful of “Saleretes”, a small spoonful of ginger, two eggs!

 

Quote

Duke's Secret

 

We tend to look back at the Victorian era and stereotype the woman as squeamish about bodily functions and sex.  Now meet my great-aunt Lulu, a lively chatterbox and lover of the romance novels of the day.  In my blog from last October, Emails Are Not Letters,   you met her then financé John.  Now two children and many years into their marriage, Lulu had not been feeling well so went to spend time with her family.  From there she writes to John in answer to two letters he has sent her.  The excerpts from this letter are not for the squeamish.

Note that the Banana Musk mentioned is a musk mellon which has a banana Flavor.  Turpentine oil, despite its toxicity, has a long history of medicinal use.  The safe mentioned was a pie safe.

                                                                                                                        Sept. 3rd, 1901                                                                                                                        Bigelow, Kans.

My Darling Boy!

John, forgive me for not writing sooner, you will won’t you when you get my letter & find I did not get yours until so late in the week?  I know you would be disappointed, but could not help it as things were.

It is rather warm here & very dry. Everybody is busy haying and cutting for days.  I went up town yesterday morning after some Med for Ma. She got ready to go along and company came so she had to stay at home.  I drove up by myself or rather the boys & I.  They drove for me most of the time. . . .

When I went down after Ma’s Medicine at Hollinger he looked at the boys & said they both needed something for worms. So I got him to fix me up some for them as Henry I know is troubled with them.  Hollinger says 2 or 3 passed from him the last two weeks. He [Hollinger] says that was what caused them [her sons] to have the spell of Diarrhea last week and the week before.

Gladys, them [Maynard and Henry] and I are siting out in the shade of the maples. Pa just brought me your letters and, Oh John, how I wish you were here or I was there. Twouldn’t matter which but will try and content myself with writing. . . .[I have] an Idea some of my undsclothes [underclothes] stuffed would be a much cooler bed fellow than I while it is so awful warm.

Am glad you thought of your truant [herself] on her birthday anyway. And you ask why I left Maynard.  [Lulu presumably told John she had left Maynard with someone else for a time.] I know I am cranky and cross with them but I love the little darlings just the same & when they are sick or don’t feel well I forget Self but I am growing stronger every day.  I know but can’t believe I was very bad sick.

Some way there will be time after I come home to finish the Log Cabin before cold weather & if I don’t come in time to eat Watermelen [Watermelon] with you, it is my fault. I think a 25 lb melon wouldn’t go wanting for someone to eat it if I was there.  Do hope you can get a good price for what you have to sell.

I don’t know whether any of the folks will come down [to her and John’s home in Missouri when] I do or not.  Lousa talks some of going if I don’t start to[o] soon. If they don’t, don’t you worry about me getting along with the children as I can do that all OK. I know the time seems long enough to me so it must be oh so long to you, but I am living in hopes of the near future now. . . .

Yes, I’ll come home “some day” and you must make the cobbler [fruit cobbler] to[o], will you alright?  You would not surprise me much if I were to wake & find you here some night as I often wake up & think am at home & reach over & feel for you & then. . . .

Mrs. Belisle surely has a tremendous big foot or bottom so you say.  I always thought she had a small foot so wore a small shoe. Anyway perhaps I haven’t got as large a foot as I’ve always thought I had for I think I am larger than she & don’t wear quite as large a shoe. . . .

The mass [of flowers at the farm] must be pretty. Those flowers you sent over fresh & nice yet.  Am glad you got that peach to eat.  Must have been nice from the size.  Do hope that apple will hang on until I get home as I want to see it. . . .

Wish I had a piece of a Bananna Musk to eat but when they get ripe, eat a piece for me.

Now, John, I’ll tell you exactly when & what day I’ll bid farewell to KS.  I start, o my darling boy, Thurs. Sept. 26th. . . .

Now for your second letter.  My Dearest boy, I know just how you felt when you got no letter but what can I say more than I am so sorry & when I think of you there all alone I can’t help but cry you no.  My darling boy, you do not deserve any such treatment as you are getting for the men are very few, very few, that would be this patient, ever bearing Husband you have been.  I hope you have got my letter by this time [referring to a previous letter she sent] & will send this so you will get it on the regular day.

Wed. morn. 4th.  Well I give Henry his Med. Yesterday & just before going to bed it had taken effect.  Gave 3 powders 3 hrs apart, then oil & a few drops of turpentine & has been 7 worms almost as large as a lead pencil & fully 10 inches long come from him. So I guess the Medicine was pretty good.

So you have burnt all of your old letters [apparently both to her and other former girlfriends].  Don’t you remember you told me I could read them but never found the time.  I burnt a good share of mine before we were married but I cared nothing for them and I believe there were some of yours at least that you thought a good deal of and ought to of kept them.  Any how I’ll keep those scraps for the sake of the letters you’ve written me on them & in the memory of others for you.  Will that do? . . .

I have read & read & reread your letters & will have to read them again before I put them away.  So you have me all pictured out how I’ll look? Well, I hope you won’t be disappointed & as to my having my teeth fixed, John, I was perfectly astonished, not that is unlike you to want them fixed, but thought I had been expense enough to you already this summer.  Nevertheless, I thank you many, many times for thinking of it and will go & see what will cost, but can’t promise whether I’ll have it done or not.  Am afraid twill take more than you think for [it].

Am so glad you bought that safe.  Have wanted one so long but would rather of had one of your own make.  Perhaps it is selfish of me to be so but I think more of anything you make than to buy it. It costs you lots of hard work I know to make anything of that hard wood, but it is made by your own dear hands. I would like to slip in there some Sunday & watch you awhile if I could, but am afraid if I got that near I couldn’t watch you long.

Does any of the neighbors ever call on you except when they want to borrow or eat watermelon?  Has Mrs. Patrick bought or sent that “Duke’s Secret” home? I read a book the last week called “Dick’s Sweetheart or the Duchess.”  Is something similar to the “Duke” but more of a sad story. Some parts made me think of you so much would have to quit reading. . . .

So my beloved I hope this will reach you by Sat. & give you ½ even as much pleasure as it does me to read yours & don’t work to[o] hard, John, for you know you aren’t able to stand so much hard work & where’s the benefit if you was yourself out at hard work as anything else as life is so short we ought to enjoy it a little as we go along & you could if you had agreed[able] helpmeet [helpmate, meaning herself]. Well, John, Good Bye for this time. I shall seal this with kisses from your Babies & Wife again.

Oh, John, Good By for a few days that seem months.

L. me

 

 

How Do Old Family Letters Survive?

The flip answer is of course “very carefully.” But there is truth in that answer. If you think about it for a minute, for a family letter to even be written there had to be at least two people who were separated by enough distance to require written communication and who in fact wanted to communicate with each other. Today we routinely text or phone friends that we may actually be with shortly. Not so in the past.

This fact has led to some frustration in my research on Montgomery Ward.  He was never separated from his wife or daughter and not much given to writing personal letters in the first place.  So far I have only encountered one sent to a niece during a trip he and his wife took to Europe. It is a delightful, chatty letter revealing a great interest in seeing the sights and affection for this niece. I hope there are more such letters in the bowels of the Chicago History Museum.

Secondly, the people who are the recipients of the letters have to want to preserve them. My great-uncle John and his wife-to-be Lulu kept their letters to each other, but discussed in these self-same letters burning other letters to former love interests. These have obviously been lost to history.

Thirdly, once the original recipients have died, their survivors have to want to preserve them. Here as the letters pass down the generations are points where many are thrown out. Poor storage with possible insect, water and fire damage also take their toll.

So chances are that whatever survives is somewhat piecemeal. Of the hundreds of family letters which I have inherited I only have the (almost) complete correspondence between my grandfather Louis and grandmother Pearl in their courting days. So in this instance I can trace how they responded to each other’s feelings and concerns.

In other instances I unfortunately cannot. In writing Coming to Amerika,on which I am working now, I have letters of my great-great uncle Friedrich in Terryville, Connecticut to his relatives on the Plains of Kansas, but I do not have their responses. No one in Terryville saved the letters. The relatives in Kansas saved his even though they were written in Old German which they could not read. My grandfather Louis and my father saved them out of emotional attachment in the case of the former and an interest in genealogy in the latter. They have now been translated and once the book is finished, the letters and other documents will be donated to academic institutions to make sure they are preserved for the future.

 

 

Working with Family Documents and Other Primary Sources

If you are interested in your family’s history and are fortunate enough like me to have family letters, photographs and other documents available, here is some advice gleaned from my own experience about how to mine them for the interesting information about your family that they contain.

  1. Read Everything

And I mean everything.  I am in the process of writing Coming to Amerika which is based on family documents spanning over one hundred years. Just recently in looking over old photos I found one of my great uncle John in his 60’s wearing a uniform. On the back of the photo was the notation “Columbian Guard.” Obviously, he had not been in the Army of Columbia! I knew, however, that as a young man he had been to the World’s Columbian Exposition—the Chicago World’s Fair—in 1893 as I had a booklet he had collected at the time. Further research revealed that the law enforcement authorities at the time felt they needed to beef up security and so hired from around the country about 2000 young men to help keep the peace and deal with pickpockets and other such offenders. They were called the Columbian Guard.

I checked to be sure that the uniform great uncle John was wearing in the photograph matched the uniforms in the other photographs of Columbian Guards on the internet. It did. So great uncle John not only attended the World’s Fair in 1893, he was part of it—a good story to include in Coming to Amerika.

  1. If You Have Documents in a Foreign Language, Get Them Translated!

Such documents are mute unless people today can read them. It may be that you are fluent in the language in which they are written. If not, there are translation services available and a professor or graduate student in a foreign language at a local college might be a good resource. In my case, although I have studied quite a few foreign languages, including German, I could not read the letters written in Old German script. Before his death my father had had some of the letters translated, but there were many more. My brother and I researched translation services, finding it difficult to locate someone who could read the script. Then through perseverance on his part, my brother located a German professor in a small college in South Dakota who in fact taught the old German script. She and her institution were willing to have her translate the remaining documents for a relatively small fee and the donation of some of the original materials for use by students in her classroom. Translations done, she is now serving as a consultant for Coming to Amerika. Without her the book would not have come alive.

  1. Put the Documents in a Historical Context

Just from the content of the documents themselves, it is not always clear just what a reference means or how typical a particular circumstance is for the time when a document was written. So now you must dig. I am a historian by training and nature and have written a great deal about United States history, but I find myself learning new and surprising things as I try to place the documents in context. For example, a number of the letters speak of going to Pike’s Peak. As I researched this I learned there was a brief gold rush in the Denver area in 1858-1860. In fact, this was how Denver got its start.

My great-great grandmother in 1850’s Germany was deeply in debt.  She had only 150 Gulden to pay them off. I could find no solid information about the value of a Gulden so I looked for amounts for comparisons. It later cost her 300 Gulden to travel from Germany to the United States, funds raised by selling possessions and receiving money from a son who had already emigrated.  So 150 Gulden was not much.

  1. Go Through Your Letters and Documents Again and Again

This is important because what might have had little meaning when you first read the material may now be a significant piece of the puzzle. In my case, as I was riffling through some materials I came across, for the second or third time, a business card for an inn in New York City. With the information I had now gleaned I realized it was for the inn my newly arrived relatives stayed at when they first disembarked.

  1. Verify, Verify, Verify

Just because a document is a primary source does not make it accurate. It was written by a human being with a certain amount of knowledge, which might have been limited, and a certain perspective, which could be quite biased. So be sure to check statements out with other available sources. In my case, in addition to writing Coming to Amerika, I am currently researching a biography of Montgomery Ward. I encountered his brief memoir in the files of the Chicago History Museum in which he asserts that his name came from the name of a general who fought in the French and Indian War. Just a little research showed that there was no such general.

  1. Not Everything is on the Internet

There is of course much information on the Internet today.  Ancestry.com and familysearch.org as well as other sites have much family data as does fold3.com for those wanting to search military records. Many important historical books have been digitized and made available, often for free, through GooglePlay and other sites.

It is a mistake, however, to limit research to just the Internet. In gathering information about Montgomery Ward I have followed his path from Chatham, Massachusetts, where he was born, to Niles, Michigan, where he lived as a youth, and finally to Chicago.  All along the way there have been resources available that are not on the Internet. Local historical societies, run often by committed volunteers, as well as public libraries are amazing founts of information. The public library in Niles has an extraordinary genealogical section with information on Ward which I am not finding at the much larger and fancier Chicago History Museum.

 

Going off the Internet grid was most important for my book Examined Lives, which will be coming out this fall.  It is a no-holds-barred look at mental illness, narrated around the lives of my mother and me. I had family letters but I ferreted out much more by locating medical records and sources for information on Walter Freeman, the man who gave my mother a lobotomy and who famously botched the lobotomy of Rosemary Kenney. I was fortunate in having a major research library at hand at the University of Chicago, from which I graduated with a B.A. and M.A. in history. They had copies of materials written by Freeman which had been destroyed by many other institutions as well as the only copy of a work by another neurologist who was Freeman’s inspiration.

Special Collections at the George Washington University where Freeman had taught, archives his donated papers, which include an unpublished autobiography, which I paid to have digitized for myself and future scholars.

I hope that these pointers will make your own family research more fruitful and thus in the end more exciting and amazing!  Happy digging!