“Grandma, could you hand me a Kleenex, please?”
We know that the speaker is asking for a facial tissue. It is a fairly common statement unless you are writing a family story set in 1910. Kimberly-Clark marketed the first facial tissues in 1924 under the name Kleenex.
You must think of the evolution of clothing, furniture, household items, and more when writing. Think of how words have changed.
• tea towel — dish towel
• trousers — slacks — pants
• pocketbook — purse — handbag
• couch — davenport — sofa
• hassock — footstool
Women didn’t wear slacks until the 1930s and 1940s, and even then it was usually movie stars or those who boated.
T-shirts were underwear, worn by sailors in the Spanish American War (1898), after which the shirts became popular. Printed T-shirts became common in the 1980s.
Sweatshirts (jerseys), created by football player Benjamin Russell Jr. in 1926, were worn on an athletic field or in a gym.
Blue jeans or denim pants took on another brand name, Levis.
Ice box, refrigerator, fridge (“frigidaire” was used even after other brands were manufactured).
Learn about the region of your story. For example, farmers in the Midwest and South ate their big meal at noon, calling it dinner. They needed the extra calories for a full day’s hard labor. A lighter meal — many times leftovers from the noon meal — was called supper.
However, on the East Coast, which was more urban, the noon meal was lighter and called lunch (shortened from luncheon). The evening meal was dinner, unless it was a light or informal meal, then it was called supper.
If you are writing about an ethnic group or religious sect, you need to study their culture. For example, some sects of Amish wear their suspenders crossed a certain way, some wear only black clothing while others wear pastel, a man does not grow a beard until he is engaged to marry, and some will ride in cars while others will not.
I recently learned that one line of my family became Shakers. They migrated from New Jersey with others to Pleasant Hill, Kentucky. I visited the village a number of years ago, but had I known that some of my ancestors had lived and were buried there, I would have paid closer attention to the surroundings and the available information. To write about those ancestors, I now have to research to have a knowledge of their time and place.
The family stories we write may be only partially true. How would we really know? But we can make them interesting if we use accurate details of the time period and culture.
One of my favorite historical novel writers, James Alexander Thom, told me, “Readers of even an historical novel are nit-pickers. You have to have the history right.”
“Genealogy is not only names and dates; it is also the history of the time and place of your ancestors.”