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December 31, 2019

In 1919...

It's been a long while since I've done one of these year-end posts, in which I, at the end of December, take you back 100 years instead of doing an end-of the year recap. Much more fun!

So what was going on in 1919?

Average life expectancy for men in 1919 was 53.5 and 56.00 for women. I noticed, looking at the stats for other years, that life expectancy the year before, in 1918, was only 36.6 for men and 42.2 for women, down drastically from the year before... this might be puzzling until you remember that the Spanish Flu pandemic swept the world that year, killing millions.

The President of the United States was Woodrow Wilson, unfortunately (sorry, my fingers got Tourette's there).

The average household wage was $1201 per year ($17,855.88 today).

A 1919 Ford Model T Sedan was about $875 ($13,009.08 in today's money).


The Treaty of Versailles had ended the First World War in November of 1918, unfairly putting the full blame for the war on Germany, forcing them to pay reparations, grounding the nation into poverty, and setting the stage for a certain young failed Austrian artist to gain support and eventually start the Second World War.

The aforementioned Spanish Flu pandemic finally died out by the summer of 1919; it was the deadliest outbreak of disease in recent history.

On the domestic (U.S.) front, thousands of policemen in Boston, Massachusetts went on strike, causing terror and lawlessness. One of the officers who walked off the job in September of 1919 was my great-grandfather David Ryan.


By 1919, a new type of music had become popular: jazz. Like rock and roll in the 1950s, jazz was regarded by older people as weird and degenerate. Kansas City Blues by Wilbur Sweatman's Original Jazz Band was a popular hit of the year.

And there was "Roses of Picardy" by popular Irish tenor John McCormack:


D.W. Griffiths's 1915 movie Birth of a Nation was racist as hell, and even back then he got enough backlash that he then came out with Intolerance the year later. In 1919, he did Broken Blossoms which starred Lillian Gish as a girl named Lucy who is horribly abused by her father, and Richard Barthelmess as Cheng, a Chinese immigrant (yes, a white dude plays a Chinese guy) who falls for Lucy and tries unsuccessfully to save her. Pretty edgy and progressive for the time. Of course this movie and all others were silent; "talking pictures" wouldn't come out for another ten years.


Women's fashion changed rapidly in the 1910s, and the Great War no doubt contributed to that (I'm focusing on women's fashion here because men's fashion has really changed so little). For women, waistlines dropped and skirt length shortened; it was becoming increasingly thought that clothing should be adapted to fit a more physically active lifestyle. Dresses were starting to have the more streamlined silhouette we would see in the 1920s. In that decade, skirt length would get to -- and pretty much stay -- at mid-calf... yes, as I wrote in my scathing indictment of how badly 1920s fashion is misrepresented, women in the 1920s did not wear form-fitting mini-dresses with fringe and stiletto heels. That's actually by far my most-visited post, per Blogger's stats.

On the cusp of the 1920s, the world was changing at an alarming pace; and one hundred years later, it still is. Happy New Year and new decade!

Average life expectancy:
Statistics on car and home from
Inflation statistics from

November 26, 2019

The holidays are upon us!

Confession time: I started my Christmas decorating on November 1st. Traditionally, my family (and I) put up Christmas decorations and the tree right after Thanksgiving. But working in health insurance, and this being the busiest and most stressful time of year for that business due to new year enrollments and changes, I found it easier the past couple of years to do it earlier. Besides, more time to enjoy it!

Quite happy with how it turned out, and will be sharing photos soon... actually took video last night, but realized that, when recording with an iPhone camera, the phone really needs to be held sideways and not vertically... then you end up with a narrow picture with a lot of black on the sides, and that's really not a great look. So I'm "re-shooting" tonight.

I missed blogging, and I love this time of year, so I'm planning to post some cool Thanksgiving-y and Christmas-y type stuff, especially about holiday traditions of old. So stay tuned!

March 23, 2019

Facebook group!

So I've created a group on Facebook, same title as this blog... so if you're on FB and find Victorian and Edwardian era history fascinating, please request to join.

I may not continue posting here, but haven't quite decided yet.

March 22, 2019

Then and now: Division 16 police station, Boston, Massachusetts

Almost 100 years ago, my great-grandfather David T. Ryan was among the many officers of the Boston Police Department to strike in September of 1919. During the eleven years that he served, from 1908 until then, he was assigned to Division 16 in the Back Bay on Boylston Street.

The building still stands today, although it's no longer a police department but apparently an architectural college.

I'll blog more about his career and the strike this year, but for now this is a photo of the building he worked in in 1914, and then as of August 2018. The first image is courtesy of Wikipedia and the second is a screenshot from Google maps.

It really hasn't changed much, has it?

Right now, I would love to find a photo of David Ryan. I know that the Boston Police Department is putting together something to commemorate the strikers, and it would be nice to pass it on to them.

March 12, 2019

Last Dinner on the Titanic

I love history. I also love food. I love the history of food. So when I came across Last Dinner on the Titanic: Menus and Recipes from the Great Liner by Rick Archbold on Amazon, it pretty much jumped into my cart and bought itself.

Lately, I've been trying to cool it on buying books... I honestly haven't been actually reading much lately, due to being busy and tired from work, and to needing bifocals (because being horribly nearsighted wasn't enough -- yay, middle age!). Right now, when reading a paper book, I have to either take my current glasses off or hold the book away from me.

But this is one book I have managed to read, and I'm so glad I got it. It's a treasure for anyone fascinated in Edwardian cuisine and/or the Titanic specifically. It has not only menus for each class, but also gives recipes. Granted, some of the recipes are by admission best guesses, but this still serves as a nifty guide if you should endeavor to put on the eleven-course first-class spread. It includes poached salmon, lamb, and filet mignon... for ONE meal. I can only figure that most ladies only ate a couple of bites of each course, or they would have never gotten through them all and would have resembled Free Willy. Edwardians actually did regard being plump as a good thing... girth meant you were rich (most people at this time literally couldn't afford to be fat, and they did a lot of physical labor).

First class menu on the night of the sinking. For some, this would be their last meal.

The second and third class dinners, while simpler and with far fewer courses, were still nothing to sneeze at. In fact, the second-class accommodations and food were equal to first class on other liners.

What readers might find puzzling is that the third class menus list meals as "breakfast, dinner, tea, and supper" instead of breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This is because working class people then still ate their main meal of the day ("dinner") at midday rather than in the evening. "Tea" was actually more substantial than "supper" was (third class supper was cabin biscuits, cheese, gruel, and coffee). But their earlier dinner of vegetable soup, roasted pork with sage and pearl onions with peas and potatoes, and dessert of plum pudding, doesn't sound bad at all. And given that most liners until now had required third class passengers to bring their own food, this would have been luxurious.

This book even included suggested music to play for your Titanic meal recreation, as well as instructions on presentation and table setting.

Would definitely recommend for anyone interested in food history and/or Titanic.

March 9, 2019


I haven't been posting here much because I wanted to change the focus of this blog, which was originally about genealogy. As much as I love genealogy research, I frankly found writing about it to be quite boring. In this topic, there really isn't much room for snark or humorous commentary, the way there was when I previously hosted a blog about societal issues/current events.

I wanted to do something with social history... but what? That's a pretty broad scope. So... I've settled specifically on Victorian and Edwardian eras. Why this time period? Because, simply, I really like it. It was a time of such change, and I think that back then there was a sense of optimism about the future. So basically, you can expect to see posts here about life from the 1840s through the 1910s. I might occasionally venture into the 1920s, but I'll try to stick to this time period. Food, fashion, music, art, literature, and just everyday life will be the topics -- as will family history from this era, so I'm not abandoning that altogether! I'll feature/pull from contemporary sources such as books, archives newspapers, et cetera. 

I hope that you come along as I explore the history of the 19th and early 20th centuries. It should be fun!

June 10, 2018

1920s fashion myths

As I had written in a previous entry, I wanted to turn the focus of this blog from being strictly genealogy to social history (of course I'll still include genealogy as well as part of that, since history and genealogy are intertwined).

I've become rather fascinated by fashion history of late, and as the 1920s is one of my favorite decades of the past, I wanted to take a look at 1920s fashion -- in particular, what we think we know about it but don't. 

When you google  "1920s dresses", the images that will come up are basically bad Halloween costumes. Short skirts with lots of fringe, stiletto t-strap heels, and feathered headbands. The look is complete with very heavy makeup.

And it's totally... 

So let's address some misconceptions about women's fashion in this decade.

1. Body type. A very common idea is the ideal female body type in the 1920s was tall and rail-thin (like Lady Mary in Downton Abbey). Actually, think more Clara Bow, who was 5'3" and 112 pounds, neither tall nor super-slim. Boxy and flat-chested was the ideal shape. 

2. Skirt length. They were certainly shorter than they had been in the previous decade, but dresses in the 1920s generally fell below the knee. The only time a skirt in the '20s would have ordinarily shown knees is when their wearers were sitting down.

3. Corsets. Women in the '20s, contrary to popular belief, did actually wear corsets. Not the same sorts of corsets their grandmothers and mothers wore, of course; they didn't have boning. But women's foundational undergarments have always been used to give the desired body shape. In the '20s, curves and boobs were out.

4. Shoes. When you look for 1920s shoes, you'll often see high heels with t-straps. Women's pumps in the '20s were low with a thick heel, and were often Mary Jane style (strap across the instep). Although t-strap shoes in the '20s did exist, you really didn't see them much until the 1930s. 

5. Makeup. I think a lot of us get the idea from films of the 1920s that the makeup then was heavy and almost goth-like. Smoky eyes and deep, dark colors. But first, these were actresses, and not "regular" women. Second, the type of orthochromatic film in use back then made colors look darker than they were -- e.g., red looked black on film. So makeup was lighter and brighter than we tend to think. 

I don't claim to be a fashion expert, and was unaware of much of these things myself until fairly recently. So next time you see "flappers" at a costume party, you can roll your eyes. You're welcome.

August 6, 2017

Three generations of George Norbury Mackenzies

A few months ago, I and my best friend were at an antiques shop, and I found some old photos in a bin. On looking through them, I found four of people who were members of the same family. Because of my dad's health challenges, and then his recent passing, I've only now gotten around to posting them. Perhaps descendants of the family will see this post.

The first photo is of George Norbury Mackenzie I, 11 February 1824 - 31 January 1887.

From what I could find on this gentleman on, he was born in Maryland, son of Thomas Mackenzie and Tacy Burges Norbury. 

This is his wife, Martha Anna Downing Mackenzie (7 April 1827 - 16 Dec 1894), daughter of Howell Downing and Harriet Gorsuch:

This is their son, George Norbury Mackenzie II (4 May 1851 - 11 February 1919):

George Norbury Mackenzie II was author of Colonial families of the United States of America, in which is given the history, genealogy and armorial bearings of colonial families who settled in the American colonies from the time of the settlement of Jamestown, 13th May, 1607, to the battle of Lexington, 19th April, 1775 (seriously, could the title be any longer?). So he was evidently interested in family history himself.

The last Mackenzie photo I found in the bin was that of George Norbury Mackenzie III (2 April 1875 - 7 June 1928):

I would be happy to share these photos with any Mackenzie descendants or relatives who are interested. 

March 12, 2016

Baptism record for 2x great-grandfather Thomas Ryan

Last week, Findmypast had free access to their Irish records databases (this weekend, does also). There I managed to find the baptism record for my great-great grandfather Thomas Ryan!

At first, I only knew that he was from Ireland (looking for a Thomas Ryan in Ireland.... yeah, good luck with that). But awhile back, I had stumbled upon an obituary that mentioned that he was from County Cork. So now at least I could narrow him down to a county. I also had a birthdate (from his death record) and his parents' names, from his marriage record.

So when I searched birth and baptism records for Ireland on Findmypast, I hit a record for a Thomas Ryan who was born on 25 July 1831 to David Ryan and Johanna Lynch, which matched the information I had.

The record states that he was baptized in Fermoy, so now I know the specific township he was from.
Thomas Ryan's baptism record from Fermoy, Cork, Ireland

Talk about the luck of the Irish!

I found a death index for a David Ryan who died in 1874 at the age of 70 in Fermoy. Although this was likely to be Thomas's father, I can't be certain without more details.

Thomas immigrated to the U.S. and settled in Boston, where he married my great-great grandmother Johanna Fitzgerald in 1860. I can't be sure when exactly he immigrated, or whether his parents or other family came with him or not.

November 7, 2015

Daniel Mace, Union Civil War veteran

My 2nd great-grandmother Elizabeth Mace Bean Winslow (1846-1907) had two older brothers who both served the Union during the American Civil War: Thomas and Daniel. Thomas, whom I've written about before, perished.

But Daniel survived, and today it's his story I want to tell.

35-star Union Civil War flag

Daniel Webster Mace was born on 14 February 1845 in New Hampshire (probably Plaistow), the second surviving child of John Mace and Sophronia Bly. Around 1848, John Mace disappeared, and in the 1850 census, Sophronia and her children were living with her aunt and uncle (she is listed as a "pauper"). On 30 April 1859, she married Joseph Fellows.

So the Mace children grew up poor and fatherless; eldest son Thomas actually joined the Navy 1857, at the tender age of 14! In the 1860 census, Thomas is a farmhand working for (living with?) a neighbor, and Daniel is a shoemaker's apprentice in Massachusetts.

I get the definite impression that, given the above information, things were not great at home.

Thomas almost immediately answered President Lincoln's call when war broke out in 1861, and was killed at Williamsburg on 5 May 1862. On 22 August of that year, just a few months after his brother's death, Daniel enlisted in the 50th Massachusetts infantry; I find this so brave and touching.

He enlisted again in February of 1864, this time in the 59th Massachusetts infantry, company E. During the siege of Petersburg, on 7 June 1864, Daniel was wounded in the left leg and captured- and he would spend the next six horrible months at Camp Sumter in Andersonville, Georgia. He survived, and was exchanged on 25 November.

On 18 March 1865, Daniel married Mirinda Wilkinson. It would be interesting to know if they had been engaged during the war, or if they met at some point after his release from the prison camp and just had a whirlwind courtship. Daniel was discharged from the Army for disability two months after the wedding.

Daniel and Mirinda had a son, William, born in 1867, but the marriage was apparently a troubled one; Mirinda divorced Daniel in 1880, and the records give her charge against him as "habitual drunkenness."

All I can say here is, if I had spend almost a half a year at Andersonville (the conditions of which were comparable to those of Nazi death camps), then I'd probably drink too. There was no counseling, no VA, no psychological support for soldiers at all at that time. 

Tintype of Daniel Mace c. late 1860s, originally mislabeled as his son Willie. Courtesy of Dan's 3rd great-grandson Jon.

In the 1900 census, Daniel is living with his now-widowed mother Sophronia, his sister Elizabeth, Elizabeth's husband James, and their daughter Bessie (my great-grandmother). In the censuses of 1910 and 1920, he's living alone and is a laborer.

Daniel was apparently very close to his half-sister Laura Fellows Noyes, Sophronia's daughter by Joseph Fellows. She, too, was a divorcee, as well as a medical doctor. "Uncle Dan" would help her with her three girls-- two of whom would also become doctors.

When Daniel died on 1 June 1924, Laura Noyes was his attending physician. Interestingly, he left only 1 dollar each to his son and to sisters Lizzie and Sarah Ellen. The rest of his estate went to Laura and her heirs. Granted, his "estate" probably wasn't very much, but my understanding is that you leave $1 to someone as basically a way of saying, "No, I didn't overlook you-- I really meant to give you the shaft."

In Daniel's will, he also requests that his grave be given a "suitable monument" reading "Daniel W. Mace, Company E, 59th Regiment Mass. Volunteers, War of 1861-1865", along with his age and date of death.

Thank you, Uncle Dan, for your service.