A Historian’s Tools

Every profession has certain tools that can enhance its work. A hair stylist needs sharp scissors and a carpenter needs the best drill. Lucky Historians will have primary sources to work with. Documents, artifacts, journals, newspapers and other pieces of information that are from the era you are studying can be very insightful. This morning I was trying to find more information about Robert Whaley Orrell (Robert J. & Mary’s only grandchild). He was born in 1898 and lived at the Whaley Historic House both as a young child and later in his life during the 1920s. In an attempt to find primary source documents, I got started at one of my favorite websites: FamilySearch.org.

An excellent (free) resource!

An excellent (free) resource!

With only a few pieces of information such as a first and last name, you can research primary source documents such as tax records, birth and marriage certificates, and even personal photos of ancestors that have been archived. All of these documents can enhance our understanding of the past. I didn’t find the exact information I was hoping to locate, but I felt a connection to Robert Whaley Orrell as I imagined what life was like at the time of the 1920 census when he was living with his mother (Florence Orrell), father (WC Orrell), and their 63 year old English maid, Mary Plows.

The internet has definitely made information easier to come by. I can’t imagine needed to go to a library to look through their archives to find information each and every time I had a question. Without Google life would have been much more labor intensive – but I wonder if the thrill of the hunt would have been worth it? (Probably not).

In addition to the Whaley family, I’ve also been researching the origins of some of our modern Halloween customs. We carve pumpkins into Jack-o-laterns, but would you believe that this practice has been happening for centuries, and that it began with turnips, beets and potatoes? The tradition of using a pumpkin began when immigrants brought their customs to America. Here at the Whaley House, we’re embracing a new tradition of painting pumpkins later this month on October 29th. Don’t forget to bring your wee ones!

A carved turnip.

A carved turnip.

Until next time, be well!

-Your Humble Intern Mellie


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