COOKBOOKS as sources for family history
Researchers in many areas are beginning to see the value in cookbooks. They help to reconstruct, wrote one, “the everyday life of the past, help to do what history can do best: show us just how, by degrees, our daily life has evolved from that past to our own familiar world of today.” Cookbooks help us codify what we do every day, essential but ordinary activities that probably don’t appear in other sources.
One of the things we learn from reading cookbooks carefully is that some important family history can be found in them. What can we learn from community cookbooks, like the church- and synagogue-sponsored books of the congregation’s best recipes, produced as fundraisers?
To find out, investigate the family cookbook collections, yours, your siblings’, your parents’ and other older relatives. Look for names of family members, neighbors, friends. Look for tomato stains and grease spots–-badges of honor in a cookbook--and for notes penciled in: “good!” or “too sweet.”
If no one you know owns such a book, do some research! What church or synagogue did family members belong to? Has that congregation published any cookbooks? Get in touch with the women’s organizations there to ask about it. Once you have a copy to read and copy from, look carefully at the recipes and the names of contributors for family members, friends and neighbors. Sometimes people contributed recipes they’d gotten from friends. One of my mother-in-law’s favorite bundt cake recipes is on a card titled “Joan Novak’s Mother’s Coffee Cake.” Start compiling a set of all the family-related recipes you find this way.
Once you find a family member’s name in a cookbook, look closely at the recipes she sent in. Is it one that is still being concocted in your family? Is it associated with a holiday? Might the recipe have long historical roots of some kind, having been brought over with the immigrating generation from China or Germany, or made by slave women with foods originating in Africa? Most of the recipes in these cookbooks, however, even those labeled ethnic, are for American food--jello salads, casseroles, popular cookies of the day. Not all will carry you back to the Old Country, but you learn something of an ancestor’s food pride from whatever recipe she contributed.
You don’t have to acquire copies of all possible cookbooks family members might have contributed to. Look for collections of cookbooks at colleges and universities in the area, especially land-grant schools that had home economics departments. For example, there’s a cookbook collection at Michigan State University that has a great website called Feeding America: The Historic American Cookbook Project.
In Minnesota there are good collections at the Minnesota Historical Society--hundreds are listed in MnPALS, our online catalog--at the Metro State Library in St. Paul, and at McGrath Library on the University of Minnesota’s St Paul campus, where the Home Economics department trained so many women for rural extension work and the test kitchens of Pillsbury and General Mills.
IRISH SOURCES FOR GENEALOGY
At the Minnesota Historical Society
the Ides of March, spring, March Madness, and St. Patrick’s Day. According to the U. S. Census Department 34 million U.S. residents claim Irish ancestry. This number is almost nine times the population of Ireland itself (3.9 million).
On November 7, 1885, the Northwestern Standard began publishing in Minneapolis and was soon renamed the Irish Standard in April of 1886. The newspaper focused on the Irish-Catholic community of the Minneapolis and St. Paul area. It was also nationalistic in viewpoint and appealed to Irish-Americans interested in the cause of Irish freedom. The Irish Standard published into June of 1920 and is available on microfilm in the Hubbs microfilm room.
Take time to check Ancestry.com (available at the Library) as well. Many interesting Irish resources can be found there – e.g. census lists, Irish marriages, Immigration and Emigration Lists, and much more. Start with “Browse by Location,” select the region (U.K. & Ireland) and on into Ireland. Don’t forget The Famine Immigrants series available at the Minnesota Historical Society Library (in book form) as well.