Tag Archives: genealogy

Food History: What Happened in the Family Kitchen?

The book  From the Family Kitchen can help you find your family food history.

When I decided to listen to those ancestors who are always looking over my shoulder as I cook, many of my friends said they knew exactly what I meant. And like the lovable schizophrenic Dr. Daniel Pierce in the TV show Perception, we do not want to be cured of our illusions. The family ties that lead from the cookstove to the ceramic cooktop, from icebox to double-door freezer-refrigerator, from receipts to recipes forge strong ties between generations.

Although I have piles of old family photos, and boxes of ephemera, including recorded memories to help me in recreating family food history, I really don’t have a profusion of precious hand-written recipes.  So, how to recreate the life of family in the kitchen from past generations?

I don’t know about you, but I still turn to books.  Yes, I utilize search engines for elusive facts, but my kitchen has always overflowed with cookbooks and since I’ve been accumulating them for 50 years, they tell a bit about the change in attitude and practice regarding food between the 20th and 21st century.

If my own books do that for a small piece of food history, think what other books can do over a broader span of time! So it was a real joy to discover a book dedicated to helping those of us who see family through the lens of food.

From the Family Kitchen: Discover Your Food Heritage and Preserve Favorite Recipes by Gena Philibert-Ortega is just the book to get you started on a family and food quest. I came away bursting with ideas of subjects that I can explore–regional foods, kitchen gadgets, housecleaning hints, the evolution of ethic foods when immigrants come to America.

Philibert-Ortega skims the surface of the many subjects she covers but From the Family Kitchen is packed with suggested resources for more detailed exploration. She tells us how the cookbook evolved in America, from the very first one in 1796. The title, quite literally, says it all. American Cookery, or the Art of Dressing Viands, Fish, Poultry, and Vegetables and the Best Modes of Making Puffs–Pastries, Pies, Tarts, Puddings, Custards, and Preserves, and All Kinds of Cakes, From the Imperial Plumb to Plain Cake, Adapted to This Country, and All Grades of Life by Amelia Simmons.

And if you have ever tried to recreate an old recipe and been stumped by unfamiliar terms or odd directions, Philibert-Ortega comes to the rescue with a glossary and tables laying out historic food terminology.

From the Family Kitchen even contains some recipes, although I doubt I’m going to try mock turtle soup which starts with instructions to take the head of a calf, separate the jaw and remove the brains….  And menus from bygone days give us an idea of how our ancestors dined.

After laying out all this helpful information, the book’s last section turns into a do-it-yourself family food history journal.  Fill in the blank pages with inherited recipes and their stories.

Philibert Ortega maintains two blogs–one about genealogy in general, the other about food history through her collection of community cookbooks, a great lens on the cooking of the past. I’ll be adding several community cookbooks to the Food Books That Stir Family Memories Page, but meanwhile encourage you to take a look at the list of books I’ve entered so far. You may find something that helps in your own search for your family’s food history.

A Cooking (And Living) Tip From Grandfather Guy Anderson

Grandfather Guy Anderson and Vera

Vera and Guy Anderson, 1941, Killbuck, Ohio

Leonard Guy Anderson ( 1878-1944) was a charmer. He was never known as Leonard–always “Guy”, and by his children and grandchildren as “Daddy Guy.”  Although he died when I was barely five years old, I remember him vividly.  He was one of those people who sparkles with life.

Get a taste of his sense of humor from these two letters.

Interestingly, my slightly older cousin Herb Anderson and I have the same visual memory of Daddy Guy Anderson. We remember him sitting in the living room of the big house on Main Street in Killbuck Ohio in a rocking chair, with a brass ashtray stand by his side. He sat and read.

By the time that Herb and I have clear memories of Daddy Guy, his health was going down hill from a heart condition, which accounts for our memories of him sitting in a rocking chair, but earlier in his life he was a perpetual motion machine, never quiet for long.

Despite his small wiry frame, he was feisty. Herb remembers that when Grandma and he had the restaurant pictured at the top of the page, Guy kept a blackjack under the counter. That’s because they sold beer. Lots of beer. And fights would break out on Saturday night. Guy Anderson would wade into the fray and break it up with his blackjack and sometimes the help of my two uncles, Bill and Herbert Anderson.

 Grandfather Guy Anderson's game cock

Cousin Herb (Sonny) with Daddy Guy’s game cock. About 1937

Guy was a breeder of fighting gamecocks (still a popular sport in some parts of the MidWest), one of which is seen in this picture with my cousin Herb as a young man, probably taken in the late 1930’s. That’s the side yard of the Anderson’s home–the house that my grandmother’s father Dr. William C. Stout built, and the one Vera and Guy Anderson turned into a restaurant.

My personal memory of Daddy Guy has to do with books. The books he was reading as he sat on that rocker were pulp-fiction Westerns. Lots of Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour. While I imagine he picked up western story magazines at the drugstore, his insatiable thirst for words led him to borrow books from an interesting lending library. (Killbuck did not have a library of its own until very recent years.)  I loved to walk with him across the street and around the corner onto Front Street. There a small store with bay windows in front had one window piled with paperback books. Readers could borrow them just like at a regular library. Unfortunately for me, there was nothing there for a five-year-old, but the experience just solidified my idea that to be grown up was to read, and to read as many books as possible.

Daddy Guy also listened to the radio a lot.  We were all interested in what was going on in the war in the 1940’s,but he also listened to a lot of ultra-conservative rants. (No, talk radio wasn’t invented recently–just the call-in part.)  He turned the radio up loud because he was very hard of hearing.  In my memory, Daddy Guy always had the hearing aid that is visible in the picture at the top of this article. My, how technology has changed. Back then, he felt fortunate to have a device that was small enough to fit in his shirt pocket (larger than today’s cell phones) and connected by a long wire to buttons hooked into his ears.

Guy Anderson

Guy Anderson as a young man.

Guy Anderson tried on a lot of occupations–and discarded them just as fast.  He was a farmer when he married his first wife, Lillis M. Bird (1877-1903). They lived on the Anderson family farm  after they married in 1898. They had two children, Rhema (Fair) (b.1902-1906)  and Telmar (1903-1982). But Lillis died in childbirth in July 1903 when Telmar was born, and Guy was left with two children.

Guy rekindled an old friendship with Vera Stout.  When her parents asked if she intended to marry him Vera scoffed, “Do you think I would marry a man with two children?”They were married  a few months later, in October, 1904.  I told you he had charm.

Vera had a mind of her own, and she did not want to care for

Ben and Nettie Anderson

Benjamin Franklin Anderson and Nettie Anderson (Guy’s Brother)

two young children as a new bride. Rhema and Telmar were sent to Guy’s brother Ben (Benjamin Franklin Anderson) to raise. [CORRECTION: Rhema went to Guy’s uncle Frank Anderson.]

After giving birth to three children (William J. 1905, Harriette 1906 and Herbert 1908) and living in the country with her mother-in-law, Vera had had enough of the farm and insisted they move back in to town.  Although Vera had declined to raise Rhema and Telmar, they were always on good terms, and Rhema and my mother were extremely close all their lives.

If you think about that timeline, you have to admit that Guy Anderson had a busy life. In the ten years between 1898 and 1908 he married twice and fathered five children. Besides that, between 1909 and 1944 he had at least five occupations.

Guy Anderson Hardware

Guy Anderson’s Hardware Store, Killbuck Ohio. Circa 1910. From left: Ben Patterson, Guy, Garfield Woods, unknown, Charlie Plant

In town (Killbuck Ohio), Guy tried his hand at running a hardware store until 1910 when Dr. William Stout, his father-in-law died. He sold the store and helped his mother in law by managing the Stout family farms. In the 1920’s Guy opened  a garage.

Grandfather Guy Anderson's Garage, Killbuck.

Guy Anderson’s Garage, Killbuck. Cousin Herb says that the building still stands on a side street in Killbuck, recognizable by the stone on the lower part of the building.

My mother, Harriette Anderson Kaser, in her recorded memoir, explained why her father was not a big success as business. He was too generous. If someone came in and gave him a sob story in his hardware store about how they couldn’t afford to buy their child a sled at Christmas, he’s just give it to them on credit.

Guy Anderson in restaurant

Guy Anderson in restaurant, Killbuck, 1941

By the early 1930s as we have seen, he and Vera had started a boarding house,which morphed into a restaurant. That apron isn’t just for pulling beer, although I imagine he did a lot of that. Guy also helped with the cooking. I don’t know for sure what all he cooked, but every time I make a pie crust, I remember my mother telling me about his instructions to only roll the rolling pin in one direction–never back and forth.  He also made light biscuits, she said, and was adamant that the secret was in handling the biscuit or pie dough as lightly as possible.

But then, I suspect Daddy Guy approached all of life with a light touch.


Note: I would like very much to be able to identify the other men in the picture of Guy Anderson’s businesses.  If you think you know someone who might know, please forward this article to them. Thanks.

The Carpenter’s Apron: Great Grandfather Joseph Kaser

[This article pertains to Joseph Kaser, ancestor of my father, Paul Kaser (1909-1996). And the aprons hold nails instead of protecting from batter spatter.]

Joseph Kaser (b. c.1827-d.?), my paternal great grandfather, was a carpenter. And that is about all I know.

I inherited this little chest, which my father said was a “handkerchief chest” and I love all of it.  The wood, I think–because I’m not an expert–is walnut. A common wood in Pennsylvania and Ohio where Joseph lived.  It does have some small nails, so is not all put together with mortise and tendon joints like an earlier chest that I have from the other side of the family. But it has beautiful turned legs, and some lovely joinery. The chest has held up pretty well, considering that it must be somewhere between 120 and 160 years old.

I like the compartments in the drawer to hold odds and ends, and the large space under the lid for handkerchiefs. I put the Kleenex™ box there for a size comparison, but it turns out to be an ironic reference. People DID once use a lot of cotton and linen handkerchiefs!

Although I have tons of information about my mother’s ancestors–particularly following a maternal line back through the ages– my knowledge of the Kaser line stops in Bloomfield (now Clark), Coschocton County, Ohio with Joseph Kaser, born around 1827.

So why don’t I know more? Because I have only done on-line research and that only gets you so far. And also because I once counted up the variant spellings of Kaser and came up with a dozen before I gave up.  And then there is the first name, Joseph, (with so far, no indication of a middle name) which is about as common as it gets.  There are Joseph Kasers galore in Ohio and Pennsylvania around the early 1800’s. Not even counting all the Kayers and Kaisers and Casers, etc.

My father knew that his grandfather lived in Coshocton County when my paternal grandfather, Clifford Kaser was born. And father knew that his grandmother’s name was Catharine Sampsel. What I have been able to track down is that Joseph married Catharine Samsel (which also is spelled Sampsel) in March 1847, and the 1880 census tells us that Joseph was born in 1827 and Catharine was born in 1825.

According to that same census report, he and his parents were all born in Pennsylvania, so Joseph’s family may well have been in the United States during or before the Revolutionary War, but when and from where and how and why did they come to the United States?

Because their children are listed in the 1880 census, we can see that the Kasers lived in Ohio at least from 1852, because their oldest son, David was 28 in 1880 and was born in Ohio, as were all the other children. David is married in 1880, and still listed as living at the residence of his parents.  The complete list of Kasers in 1880 folllows.

  • Joseph Kaser, 53, carpenter Born in Pennsylvania
  • Catharine Kaser, 50 *However according to her gravestone she would have been 51 at the time of the census. Born in Ohio
  • David Kaser, 28, carpenter
  • Ellen Kaser, 18, housework [David’s Wife]
  • Johnathon Kaser, 20, day laborer
  • Anna Kaser, 17
  • Clifford Kaser, 13 (my paternal grandfather)
  • Edward Kaser, 10

Not only have I not been able to find out who Joseph Kaser’s parents were or when their family came to the United States, or what country they came from, I am searching for information on a rare Kaser relative that I actually met. She was “Aunt Jennie” whom I visited with my father in the 1940’s and 50’s in Mt. Vernon Ohio. How is she related to these people?

[NOTE: A little more searching and I discovered that Aunt Jennie was actually related to my father’s MOTHER rather than his FATHER–so she was not a Kaser. More to come.]

But I have many more avenues to travel down before giving up.  I can track every one of the siblings of Clifford Kaser to seek more information. I can post on bulletin boards on genealogy sites. I can follow leads in an old newspaper article I found in my father’s files about a band in Clark, Ohio that ties to another keepsake–a battered old trombone.

The family seems to be full of people who are handy with their hands–from carpentry to tin- smithing to playing the trombone.  My father enjoyed making things, but the things he built for me, I left behind as Ken and I moved from house to house. He had built bookcases in our Columbus, Ohio house and when we moved to Arizona, he built bookcases for us, and repaired anything that needed fixing in the five houses we lived in before he died.

Meanwhile, if you know anyone named Kaser, ask them if they know about Joseph the carpenter who lived in Bloomfield/Clark, Ohio. And let me know.