What caught your fancy?

You may know that I have been working on a transcription of a handwritten collection of medical recipes from the 1600s that will be the source document for my thesis. I finally finished the 2nd pass through of transcription this week after working on it for at least 18 months. Accomplishing this milestone made me think back to why I was interested in this in the first place.

Several years ago I took a class in world history. After searching around for a topic for the term paper, I finally decided to write about medical advice and recipes for treatment of gynecological and childbirth issues in medieval England. I was surprised to find that suggested treatments for the gynecological issues were often right-on according to modern technology, at least if you think like a women in medieval England. It was believed that menstrual blood could be toxic if it built up in the body. Therefore, having a regular period was of high priority. Poor diet, however, often caused irregular periods and pregnancy could not be known until movement of the fetus was first felt several months after conception. Many of the herbs they used are known abortifacients (causing abortion) and others are known to restart a stalled period. While no doubt some women purposely caused abortions, others took these herbs without knowing they were pregnant. In any case, whether a woman was pregnant or not, by taking these herbs she achieved the desired result of restarting the period. (The treatments for childbirth issues on the other hand seemed very strange and superstitious to me).

Before this, I thought that medieval medicine was based on ignorant and unhelpful theories. Thankfully I have come a long way in adjusting my attitude to culture and beliefs in earlier time periods. In any case, this jump started my interest in social history, of which medicine is still an important part.

What caught your fancy and got you started in researching social history?

Asking Questions

I give a talk on social history that uses Levi Savage as a case study. I want participants to think  about one of their ancestors and how to learn about the social history surrounding that person. One of the most important tips that I give is to ask lots of questions about the documents and events that the researcher is studying. I recently learned that I also needed to talk about my research with others and get ideas from them.

One of the documents I use in the case study is the 1862 proposed Constitution of Deseret (what the Mormons wanted to call their state). Levi Savage, Jr.  is a delegate from Millard County. Knowing just that, I ask what we might be able to infer from this document. Some of the standard responses include

  • he lived in Millard County in 1862
  • he was probably involved in politics
  • he was probably literate
  • his father was also named Levi
  • he was an important and/or respected person in the community

At the most recent conference some of the participants taught me there were some other possibilities that I hadn’t thought of

  • no one else would go
  • he was out of town when the delegate was chosen and therefore couldn’t decline
  • he might have been rich enough to go to a convention

Last night I was talking to a family member about another document I use in the case study that shows that Levi was awarded $1100 for Indian depredations. This is a newspaper article in the 1890s and I haven’t yet figured out where to go to find more details. His son’s diary talks about some difficulties with the Indians in Millard County in the 1860s and I wonder if this money was due to losses he suffered in Millard County. I suggested this monetary award may have been due to an act passed in Congress (since the money came from the government).

The family member pointed out that Levi may also have been savvy when it came to lawsuits due to his education. As an example, she pointed out that Levi sued the government for a mule that he owned that was taken by the Army when he was in the Mormon Battalion. He won that suit. She suggested that perhaps the $1100 was perhaps money he received as part of a lawsuit rather than an act of Congress or some other government body.

Both of these examples point out the importance of sharing your research and ideas with others. I learned of potential reasons that Levi was chosen to be a delegate that I had not thought about but are certainly possibilities. I also learned that in addition to newspaper and Congressional record searches, I should also look into the court records to find details of the Indian depredation monetary award.

What research will you share with your family members and friends to come up with new possibilities?