On the first Thursday night of October our intrepid group of genealogy networkers met again in the meeting room of Cook Park Library to share ideas and have some fun.
A challenge had been issued to the group, albeit at the last minute: Write up an “Ancestor For A Day.” Pick an ancestor and a specific day at least one hundred years ago and write about said ancestor on that day. We were asked to describe an ancestor, where they lived, who was in their family, what they were doing.
Several group members had write-ups that they shared, including one member whose ancestor loaned Abraham Lincoln a lantern in 1858. Another shared pictures with her ancestors. Taking a “snapshot” look at our ancestors on one day brings them into focus, helping us get to know them in a deeper way.
We decided to do this again next month, so start looking through your research and pick an ancestor (or more than one, for you over-achievers out there!) to describe for a day. Hopefully we’ll hear from some of you next month.
Here’s my Ancestor-For-A-Day, my paternal grandfather Harry Peterson.
On Christmas in 1916 my grandfather, Harry Peterson, was 11 years old. His parents, Cecilia and Herman, were both immigrants from Sweden, but they had met and married in Kewanee, Illinois. At the end of 1916 Harry had five sisters and two brothers. He was the third child in the family and the first boy.
Harry lived with his parents and siblings on a farm just south of Princeton, Illinois. According to the 1916 Prairie Farmers Directory, Herman Peterson’s farm was 4 acres and had 7 horses, 4 cows, and 12 hogs. Probably some chickens, too. I imagine that Harry, as the oldest son, was given a good deal of responsibility on the farm, even at the age of 11. Cows needed to be milked, stables cleaned, animals fed.
But on Christmas and Christmas Eve, I wonder if Harry went through these chores a little more quickly with anticipation for the upcoming festivities. Christmas Eve was a Sunday that year and Sunday morning meant attending services at the Swedish Lutheran Church in town. According to the Peterson Christmas traditions that I heard about later, Christmas was always celebrated on Christmas Eve with traditional Swedish food: lutefisk, brown beans, fruit soup, limpa bread, and rice pudding. Harry’s mom, Cecilia, was known as a good cook, but I imagine she worked most of the day on that meal!
Then after the evening’s dinner, perhaps presents were opened. I would guess the presents were simple, perhaps even practical. Maybe Harry got a Swiss army knife, or some tin soldiers, or maybe a piece of clothing made by his mom. I did read that bisque dolls from Germany were not to be had (remember the fighting had begun “over there”) so if the younger girls received any dolls, they were probably cloth or maybe even homemade.
On Christmas Day in 1916 the city of Princeton was on the cusp of making a tradition of its own.(1) At five o’clock in the afternoon the whole town was invited out to a tree lighting ceremony at city hall park. A choir made up of adults and children performed, and then came a visit with Santa! Every child under the age of 16 was given a ticket to see Santa, and every child with a ticket was given a “remembrance.”(2) At 11 Harry probably didn’t believe in Santa any more, nor did his older sisters Hildur and Nina, but I’m sure they would have stood in line with their younger sisters and brothers, for the sake of keeping the secret alive for the little ones, as well as for the sake of getting a “remembrance” of their own.
When the festivities were all over, everyone came together for the ride home. There were the farm animals again, waiting to be watered and fed. As Harry milked the cows, perhaps he went over the events of the day. Attending church, seeing friends in town, singing Christmas carols, celebrating with his family. These would be things that would continue to be part of Christmas celebrations for the rest of his life.
(1) Bureau County Tribune, 22 December, 1916, page 1.
(2) Bureau County Tribune, 29 December, 1916, page 1.