Saturday, March 8, 2008

"Ancestral Dollars and Cents" by Kathleen Trevena at SDGS today

Kathleen Roe Trevena was the guest speaker at the San Diego Genealogical Society meeting today. Her first talk was "Ancestral Dollars and Cents: Occupations and Money in Early America." The description of her talks and her CV are here.

This talk focused on occupations, macro-economics and money. She discussed colonial times when mercantilism ruled - the colonies produced raw materials and England produced finished goods. Common male colonial occupations included farmer, sawyer, miller, carpenter, merchant, storekeeper, peddler, etc. Women did spinning, weaving, sewing, midwifing, and selling butter, cheese and eggs.

The industrial revolution in the 1800's tremendously affected life in the US - many jobs were done faster by machines and consumer goods replaced hand-crafted items. There were opportunities in the factories and mills for young people, women and immigrants.

Kathleen showed examples of some sources for occupations, including census, tax lists, court cases, newspapers, county histories, probate records, indentures, city directories, etc.

On the money side, English coins were in short supply in colonial times, and foreign coins (especially the Spanish real), coins minted in the colonies, and wampum were used. Paper money was issued by individual colonies and then states, but the US government didn't issue government currency until 1862 ("greenbacks"). Payments between individuals were often in coins, paper money, credit or barter. Sometimes other items of economic value were used - furs, tobacco, corn, wheat, etc.

She made the point that people lived in communities and states, and were affected by local, regional and national economic conditions. She provided a list of significant economic downturns - panics and depressions - that might have caused our ancestors to move to another location or change occupation.

Kathleen does an excellent job of presenting talks like this - she talks more about socio-economic issues than about research tips or techniques. We need to understand these issues when we tell the life story of our ancestors in every time frame.

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