By Daniel Hubbard | November 11, 2009
I am always trying to get into the heads of the people that I’m researching and one of the best ways of doing that is through living history. Go out and visit a place that resembles somewhere that an ancestor lived or, if you are truly lucky, you might even find that there is some living history at a place where an ancestor lived.
Some living history is so famous it hardly needs mentioning, Williamsburg for example, but there are many others far, far less well known. A year and a half ago my family spent a long weekend in northwest Illinois. We went mostly to see Galena, a charming old town that was a lead mining boomtown in the first half of the 19th century and as usual I had ulterior family history related reasons for picking our destination. I also wanted to visit a place I’d never heard of before, Apple River Fort, a reconstruction of the fort built on that site during the Black Hawk War (1832). It turned out to be the highlight of the trip.
We went there during a children’s games weekend and my kids loved it. They played 19th century games outside the fort and made noodles in the fort’s kitchen. They learned to stuff musket cartridges (sugar instead of black powder and a gum ball instead of a musket ball). They watched molten lead get turned into musket balls and they got to hunt a straw bison with a spear and atl-atl (a “spear thrower”). They liked it so much that we had to go back the next day despite the fact that the fort is quite small.
Not only did my children love it, but I learned that the fort had been built to protect the Apple River Settlement, a place I knew of only because an ancestor’s daughter had been born there. The family was gone long before the fort was built, nevertheless, this was the place. In a sense, it suddenly felt like it was my place.
The town of Elizabeth has replaced the Apple River Settlement on the map but in it there are homes that incorporate lead miners cabins and a small local history museum that explained a bit about the mining that had begun there in the 1820′s. When you find a place like this it pays to find a talkative and knowledgeable interpreter or two, you never know what obscure tidbits of information you can learn from the them especially if they find out how relevant it is to you.
*This is not the post I planned for Veterans Day but H1N1 has a way of altering plans and delaying blog posts. On the other hand, my Veteran’s Day post, when I get it out, will be even more topical.Twitter It!