Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Christmas (and other) Cards from our Past


Remember when everyone used to send real Christmas cards by mail? We did as well early on – with notes in many of them to special people. Some had longer letters enclosed. In return, we received many cards from friends and relatives, again many with letters telling us what experiences those families had during the previous year. Many of those letters are now part of our family history, like pages from a diary.

In more recent years the world has turned to electronic delivery of holiday greetings. This past Christmas, that is all we sent out, although we did get a few real ones back. We apologized for just sending out cards via email although most people did like them. The music (White Christmas) certainly added to well-wishes.


I inherited a small collection of cards that had been sent to and from my grandparents. They include birthday cards, Mother’s and Father’s Day cards and Christmas cards. There are not a lot of them, but they are special. I have them in a small three-ring binder. It’s neat to see the messages people wrote in them. I wrote a blog post about one of them on 24 May 2016 – a get-well card sent to my grandfather in 1955.


Among the collection are a few Christmas cards addressed to my grandparents by my mother.


When I was growing up, we received enough cards to string along the entire length of the living room wall or arrange them in a seasonal display.


I think I have every card, for every occasion, we ever sent to each other: Christmas, birthdays, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, special occasions. They are all in a storage bin marked Cards (What else?). It will probably be a miracle if they survive past us as our children either do not have the room to store things or don’t like to keep a lot of stuff themselves. We hope they might take the opportunity after we are gone to go through them and select out a few personal mementoes. It may also be a way of bringing family history to life with our grandchildren if they have a chance to look at the old cards and letters.

Some of them are cute!


Some are funny, if maybe a bit irreverent!


Some are sappy!


Some are especially sentimental, having been sent to or from our parents, children or grandchildren.


Many of our cards ended up in our family albums. Most ended up in the storage bin as room in albums was left for actual photos. Speaking of the bin, I found a letter and some photos from 1983 while going through it today – items that should probably have been put into an album.


I have said here before that nothing gets thrown away in our house if it has anything to do with family history. The cards are included in the memorabilia I keep around.

As may be seen here, it can be fun to see what was part of Christmas Past.

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

Origin of Old Food Products


My wife and I were recently discussing how certain food products came to be used, marketed or even feared in past decades and centuries.

Many readers will remember, and possibly still eat such products as Spam or Bovril. Tomatoes, a fruit now common in diets world-wide was avoided in Europe in the 18th century.

Some foods came into common use, or at least were made more popular when they were part of rations eaten by soldiers in the two world wars of the 20th century.

Stories circulated in the 16th and 17th century, based on inaccurate information, that tomatoes were part of a family of poisonous plants. It was also believed that the acidic fruit leached lead from pewter plates thus causing lead poisoning. In fact, adding lead to pewter occurred much later that reports of such ailments which may have been a result of the addition of “sweeteners” with lead compounds to inferior wines.

Spam, a brand of cooked meat made by Hormel Foods, was introduced in 1937. Its sale in tins made it a ready food source for wide distribution and use by the military during World War II. While it has be assailed by thousands over the decades with disparaging names, it has come to be widely accepted part of diets in dozens of countries.


Bovril, now owned by Unilever, is a thick, salty, meat-extract paste which can be used in drinks, soups, stews, porridge, or as a spread on toast. It was developed in the 1870s by John Lawson Johnston, a Scottish butcher. It was in Edinburgh where he first decided to process beef trimmings to process to make a glaze. He immigrated to Canada in 1871, bringing with him his recipes. There he developed his Johnston’s Fluid Beef (brand Bovril), supplying it as a packaged, preserved meat product to the French Army during the Franco-Prussian War. It was widely used during World War I. The product has been available on supermarket shelves although in 2004 the recipe was changed to remove beef ingredients.


Many foods we now eat were developed for the military, of many nations. There was a need for packaged, nutritious and easily-transported products. Canning or bottling of foods was developed at the end of the 19th century which allowed long-term preservation and transportation. Among these foodstuffs are energy bars, a variety of canned goods, crackers and deli meats.

Freeze-drying, originally used for packaging and transporting blood products and vaccines during World War II, became popular for preserving many foods such as meat, coffee, fruits and vegetables. The process made them lightweight and long-lasting. I remember tasting them (if that is an appropriate word) when working as a young geologist in the Yukon and Northwest Territories of Canada. You just had to add water and cook.

Snack foods, the ultimate in processing and packaging, are the result of developments in food preservation. Corn-puffs actually came out during World War I when Walter, Gerber, Fritz Stettler and James Kraft created dehydrated, preservable cheese dust, emulsified with salt. The packaged snack became popular and profitable when Charles Elmer Doolin invented the Cheetos® brand, composed of cheese-flavoured cornmeal, or puffed corn, in 1948.


Tuesday, 1 January 2019

My New Blog – Mother Nature’s Tests

Happy New Year!

I have set up a new blogsite titled, Mother Nature’s Tests.

The new site is meant primarily for family historians. 

Readers will find information about how people and communities were impacted in the past by natural phenomena – or Mother Nature.

I will write blog posts concerning examples of actual events from all over the world, and how families coped with them. Links will be added to websites and articles, including my own, that may assist genealogists looking for specific data about certain areas.

As I have said in the Introduction to my book, “responses to natural phenomena, and how people adapted to environmental changes are part and parcel of the construction of family histories. Physical changes to human habitats through natural causes may have been underlying factors in decisions to move – to find jobs and/or improved living conditions.”


The blog will be an extension to the book and, hopefully encourage genealogists to explore the natural world, especially with respect to the areas in which their ancestors lived and the physical events that occurred during their lifetimes.

Information about how to obtain a copy of my book is described on the new blogsite.

Mother Nature's Tests blogsite can be found at https://mothernaturestests.blogspot.com/