Every Friday on my blog Food. Family.Ephemera is Food Friday. Blog posts on Food Friday feature a recipe from a community cookbook. So I decided that we should explore places to find these cookbooks as part of the resources for Women's History Month.
Researching the life of a female ancestor can have its difficulties. Most family historians find that their ancestress is rarely mentioned in the sources familiar to genealogists such as government records. When women aren't found in these standard resources you need to consider alternative approaches.
Sources exist that were created by women including community cookbooks. Women’s material culture, including cookbooks, provide a glimpse into the sphere of a woman’s world and in some cases even provide documentation of the women in a community.
|From the collection of Gena Philibert-Ortega|
Community cookbooks were published by churches, schools, social movements and non-profit organizations. Community cookbooks, have been around since the time of the American Civil War. These cookbooks still exist and continue to fund the concerns and activities of women.
What’s Inside a Community Cookbook?
Like many genealogical sources, community cookbooks are at the very least a “names list.” They provide a name and a place. Community cookbooks vary on what information can be found in the cookbook. The standard is to have pages of recipes with the name of the woman who submitted that recipe. That name may include a notation that includes Mrs. and a husband’s name or initials. Leaving only unmarried women with their full name included.
While that type of listing does happen, there are many cookbooks that include additional information ranging from just the name of the recipe contributor to family history information explaining the significance of the recipe to the family. Depending on the group who organized the cookbook you can find occupations, personal histories and even clues to ethnic backgrounds. I've seen church community cookbooks that include a detailed history of the church, names and dates of service of ministers and a list of the burials in the church cemetery.
Your ancestor’s community may also be reconstructed from information found in the cookbook. Advertisements may have been sold to help offset the cost of printing the cookbook. A benefit to both the advertiser and the women publishing the cookbook, advertisements can help you learn more about what existed in your ancestor’s community including ads for funeral homes and physicians.
Finding Community Cookbooks
In searching for possible community cookbooks, consider checking archival/library collections, digitized book sites and online auction websites. If you are in the area where your ancestor lived, you can expand your search to local library collections, used bookstores, friends of the library book sales and thrift stores.
Large collections of community cookbooks can be found around the United States.
Some collections include :