Sometimes it’s tempting to have a little moan about how much we have to do, isn’t it? Whether it’s writing, editing, housework or the day job – we all feel tired from time to time and need to let off steam. But do we really have the right to complain? Just think how much less we have to do than our ancestors!
I am in awe of two of my great-grandmothers – Elmina and Martha, and I think they are great examples of just how ordinary women lived even a hundred years ago and how hard they had to work every day.
|Me as a baby with Gt-grandma Elmina
Elmina (usually called Mina) was my great-grandmother on my mother’s side and lived in Sweden. She was the wife of a baker and he got up at some unearthly hour of the morning to make bread that had to be ready to sell by the time their shop opened each day. It was Mina’s job to man the shop, but before it opened, she also had to deliver bread to customers who had ordered theirs to be brought to their house. On top of that, Mina had six children (my grandmother was the oldest and had to help in the shop from a very early age). She had to cook for the whole family, plus at least three apprentice bakers, every day. Somehow she also found the time to make clothes for the entire family, not to mention doing the washing and cleaning. I have no idea how she did it.
Martha was the mother of fourteen children – fourteen! - twelve of whom survived to adulthood. She was my great-grandmother on my father’s side and lived in Holborn, near Red Lion Square. Before she’d even turned forty, her husband died and she was left to bring up the children on her own. Even though a few of them were old enough to help out by then by going out to work and bringing home their salaries, it must have been a struggle. Again, I have no idea how she managed to feed and clothe so many! But somehow she did. Sadly she was killed by a bomb during the war – she and her eldest daughter had gone to shelter in the crypt of their local church, which took a direct hit. It’s ironic that had she stayed in her house, she would have been safe.
I know that when we read and write historicals, we mostly prefer to focus on the upper class people, the ones who never had to toil in this way. But when I do genealogy, it’s the ordinary people who fascinate me the most – the ones who never really made a mark on the world, but without whom we wouldn’t be here. I have hundreds of them on my family tree (I’ve been researching my family for quite a long time) and they each have their own story to tell. One day, I’m going to put them all in a book.
How about you – do you have any interesting ancestors or someone you particularly admire?