• A Sustainable Family Tree

    This week Genealogy Beginner attempts to unite our past and present…with hopes for a brighter future…through the wisdom of our ancestors.

    No one who has spent time needed to make a family tree will deny the fact our ancestors had it rough, eking out a living through total self-sufficiency.  From cotters in an old world – to – settlers in a new one, it was imperative to survival that they be conservationists by nature.

    Before it became a socially conscious practice or a global concern, Great, Great Grandma and Grandpa were reducing and reusing as part of their daily lives. Sustainability was not a catch phrase; it was an accepted part of life.

    Perhaps their reasons for recycling are different from our own. History, shows recycling is customary in times of shortage. Even in this, there are similarities between their time and ours…the common theme; long- term survival.

    How eco friendly were our ancestors?

    A Family Tree of Conservationists
    Water is a good place to start. In the simplest possible terms water had to be conserved as wells could run dry.

    Rain Barrels:
    –    Collected rain water from runoff
    –    Stored in barrels to use at a later date
    –    Was used to do laundry
    –    Rainwater was considered excellent for washing hair (makes it very soft)

    Our ancestors were also wise when it came to keeping their water sources clean and healthy.  They knew how important it was to keep pollutants away from the family’s water supply. Thus, they positioned livestock and other contaminants down hill from the well.

    A Greener Genealogy
    We have also learned lessons from our forefathers on sustainable energy uses in our natural environment.  Ancient Chinese engineer Tu Shih, immortalized in a text from 31 AD, invented a water-powered reciprocator used in the casting of iron for agricultural equipment. The short story, casters and smelters used running water to operate billows long before we developed hydroelectric dams.

    Repurposing Family History
    From Imperial Byzantium, throughout the Roman Empire, sailing past medieval Vikings to Victorian England and into the Great Depression; archeological and historic record proves recycling reined supreme within our predecessor’s lifetimes.

    The Byzantine
    In the heart of the Byzantine is the ancient city of Sagalassos (current day Turkey) where archeologists found evidence of an intensive glass recycling program.

    The Romans
    The Romans recycled metal turning bronze coins into statues. In addition, Romans used recycled water for their sewer systems.

    The Vikings
    Famed marauders immortalized in Saga, we do not think of the early Norse as being particularly eco friendly…or even friendly. However, in an 11th century site located in the city of York, England, is evidence of a makeshift recycling center. True to the Viking spirit, the site was for the reprocessing of weapons after battle.

    The Victorians
    The most avid recyclers, ancestors of the Victorian era provide the best examples of reduce, reuse and recycle.

    ·    Historians commonly have a difficult time finding examples of Victorian clothing because garments were passed down from lady to maid to daughter and finally given to second hand shops.

    ·    If your Victorian ancestors kettle had a leak it would be repaired, worn bed sheets were “sides-to-middled” (a method of repair), in addition worn collars and cuffs of clothing would be turned and the good side used.

    An unsung hero of recycling, the familiar Rag and Bone Man, would go from home to home collecting:

    Rags, which he would sell:
    -To make Shoddy Wool (used to make military uniforms)
    -Have turned into rag paper
    -Be used to enrich soil for growing hops

    Bone, which he would sell:
    -For making glue

    The Great Depression
    During the depression, things needed repairing not replacing. The depression heralded a culture of making items we could not buy and everything from lumber to wire to old nails were repurposed.

    Growing our Roots
    With the current popularity of rooftop/balcony gardens and the backyard chicken coop it seems that we have come full circle. It would be honest to say our precursors made a practice of these things either because they did not have easy access to a grocer or because they could not otherwise afford a healthy diet. Anyone who has seen the price of organic eggs may agree, we have not come so far from our ancestors after all.

    Join us on the Forums, “The Discovery Panel” for a rare peek into the past where Genealogy Beginner shares some green cleaning tips from a Victorian Era cleaning Manual.

    Image Credit: des_enzano via Photobucket

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