Monday, September 19, 2016

"Facts" About the 1500's? by Halvor Moorshead

For the last couple of years an item has been circulating around the Internet about so-called Facts about the 1500s (sometimes 1600s). A quick search using the search-engine Google pointed to over 400 websites that were carrying this piece. Interesting reading. The problem is that most of it is completely invented. The original author is not credited in any of the versions we have seen. Here we present the original version and our attempt to correct the errors.
The phrase "raining cats and dogs" had nothing to do with animals living in thatched roofs.
Next time you are washing your hands and complain because the water temperature isn't just how you like it, think about how things used to be. Here are some facts about the 1500s. Most people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in May and still smelled pretty good by June. However, they were starting to smell, so brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odor.
There is no evidence that June was a popular month to get married until the last 100 years. Flowers have been associated with weddings since the earliest times, probably as symbol of fertility.
Baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the house had the privilege of the nice clean water, then all the other sons and men, then the women and finally the children — last of all the babies. By then the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it — hence the saying, "Don't throw the baby out with the bath water." 
This explanation makes no sense when you consider the expression and its meaning. Additionally bathing was so rare that there were no bathing tubs. 
Houses had thatched roofs — thick straw — piled high, with no wood underneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the dogs, cats and other small animals (mice, bugs) lived in the roof. When it rained it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof — hence the saying "It's raining cats and dogs." 
A believable explanation is given in Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable: mythology associated the cat with rain and the dog with wind. 
Canopy beds may have been designed to protect against insects, but they weren't designed to protect against droppings from the roof.
There was nothing to stop things from falling into the house. This posed a real problem in the bedroom where bugs and other droppings could really mess up your nice clean bed. Hence, a bed with big posts and a sheet hung over the top afforded some protection. That's how canopy beds came into existence. 
Canopy beds may have originated as a means of keeping out flying insects but if you think about it, people rich enough to afford a canopy bed — a huge investment in the 1500s — would also be living in homes with proper ceilings. 
The floor was dirt. Only the wealthy had something other than dirt, hence the saying "dirt poor." 
Probably correct — except that the expression is American — and from centuries later. 
The wealthy had slate floors that would get slippery in the winter when wet, so they spread thresh (straw) on the floor to help keep their footing. As the winter wore on, they kept adding more thresh until when you opened the door it would all start slipping outside. A piece of wood was placed in the entranceway — hence, a "thresh hold." 
The term threshold predates the 12th century according to the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary. And isn't wet straw at least as slippery as wet slate? 
The phrase "peas porridge in the pot nine days old" had nothing to do with life in the 1500s.
In those old days, they cooked in the kitchen with a big kettle that always hung over the fire. Every day they lit the fire and added things to the pot. They ate mostly vegetables and did not get much meat. They would eat the stew for dinner, leaving leftovers in the pot to get cold overnight and then start over the next day. Sometimes the stew had food in it that had been there for quite a while — hence the rhyme, "peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old." 
According to the Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes, this chant was not used before 1762.
Sometimes they could obtain pork, which made them feel quite special. When visitors came over, they would hang up their bacon to show off. It was a sign of wealth that a man "could bring home the bacon." They would cut off a little to share with guests and would all sit around and "chew the fat." 
We couldn't find a convincing explanation for chew the fat. One was that it was of US Civil War origin, another that it was from Cockney Rhyming Slang meaning "have a chat" — and rhyming slang came was not known until after WWI.
Those with money had plates made of pewter. Food with a high acid content caused some of the lead to leach onto the food, causing lead poisoning and death. This happened most often with tomatoes, so for the next 400 years or so, tomatoes were considered poisonous.
It is true that tomatoes were thought to be poisonous until about 1830 — however tomatoes were extremely rare in Europe in the 1500s and in any case are not acidic enough to affect pewter.
Most people did not have pewter plates, but had trenchers, a piece of wood with the middle scooped out like a bowl. Often trenchers were made from stale bread, which was so old and hard that they could be used for quite some time. Trenchers were never washed and a lot of times worms and mold got into the wood and old bread. After eating off wormy, moldy trenchers, one would get "trench mouth."
The expression trench mouth was first used during WWI.
Bread was divided according to status. Workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle, and guests got the top, or "upper crust." 
This one may be true; the term upper crust does predate the 1500s.
Lead cups were used to drink ale or whiskey. The combination would sometimes knock them out for a couple of days. Someone walking along the road would take them for dead and prepare them for burial. They were laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days and the family would gather around and eat and drink and wait and see if they would wake up — hence the custom of holding a "wake." 
A wake refers to what the visitors do, not what you expect the corpse to do! In this context a wake means a watch or a vigil. It originated from an all-night watch kept in church before certain holy days. It later became associated with fairs and revelries held at such times. Some towns in the north of England still observe local holidays called wakes. (Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable).
England is old and small and the local folks started running out of places to bury people. So they would dig up coffins and would take the bones to a "bone-house" and reuse the grave. When re-opening these coffins, 1 out of 25 coffins were found to have scratch marks on the inside and they realized they had been burying people alive. So they thought they would tie a string on the wrist of the corpse, lead it through the coffin and up through the ground and tie it to a bell. Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all night (the "graveyard shift") to listen for the bell; thus, someone could be "saved by the bell" or was considered a "dead ringer". 
Saved by the bell is a boxing term dating from the 1930s and dead ringer is from horse racing about 1890 and refers to a horse — or somebody — who looks virtually identical to someone else.
And that's the truth — whoever said that history was boring!
History is not boring and the real explanations are just as interesting — and not hard to find either!
This article originally appeared in our February/March 2002 issue.
Thank you Ella Mabie for contributing this gem.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Young HOB Member Becomes MD - A First for Chapter

Kelsey Caroline Jorgesen Sletner, Junior Member of HOB (9 Jan 2009) and granddaughter of HOB member Carolyn Bowen (4 Nov 1969) in CA, just received her MD degree in  Norway.  Born in Norway, she currently lives in Paradis  with her husband and two young children.  Both children were born while Kelsey was in medical school.  Kelsey's ancestor is Abraham Estes, whom she shares with Anne Winn, Carolyn Bowen, Sharon Kohen (Texas), Betty Gibbs in Colorado, and Linda Evans in California.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

HOB Participates in Tech4Troops

Member Viki Armentrout turns over tech contributions from House of Burgesses Chapter to T4TP.  Viki, a veteran, led the effort for the chapter. 

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Celebrate Anniversary of First Landing in April

A Veteran in Our Midst: Thank you for your service

Viki Armentrout, a member of the House of Burgesses, is a veteran of the U.S. Army, having served for five years from 1982 - 1987 at the following stations:  Corry Station Naval Technical Training Center, Pensacola, Florida; U.S. Army Field Station Berlin, Berlin, Germany; National Security Agency, Fort Meade, Maryland; and the Maryland National Guard at Greenbelt, Maryland.  A Signal Analyst Support Non-commissioned Officer, her work included the interpretation, identification, and analysis of data communication and intelligence signals and the design of projects in support of National Security Agency mission deployments.

To learn more about Viki Armentrout’s contributions see the following stories on our website
“Chapter member, Viki Armentrout, a veteran, was fortunate enough to lay a wreath on the grave of Juliet Ann Opie Hopkins ("the Florence Nightingale of the South"), (1818-1890) at Arlington National Cemetery on December 13, 2014.”  ( 9/9/2014.)

“Governor Terry McAuliffe thanked Viki Armentrout at the Virginia Values Veterans (V3) Summit for her service in the army, and recognized her for helping veterans get jobs.” (  12/17/2014.)

Donate Your Old Computer and Help Our Troops

In support of the TECH FOR TROOPS Project being run out of Richmond, Virginia, the House of Burgesses Chapter will collect old computers from members at our May 17, 2016 meeting.  So if you have an old laptop, desktop PC, tablet, cell phone, mice or keyboard, bring them to the meeting.  TECH FOR TROOPS will refurbish the item and put it back in use to help our troops or veterans.

See more information on the following URL:

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Books Needed for National Library

Below is the new list of books to donate to the Colonial Dames17th Century National Library.  To donate a book, please use the book donation form (located on the national website), and submit to Nan Ackerman, our Librarian General.
1.  Taylor, Nathaniel Lane, ed. Les Ancetres de Charlemagne. 2nd edition.
2.  Lambert, David. Guide to Massachusetts Cemeteries. 2nd edition.
3.  Joslyn, Roger D. Madison County, NY Universalist Church Records 1806-1878: Tree Talks.
4.  Ingham, Norman W.  Ingham Genealogy: the Descendants of Joseph Ingham (c1630-1710) of Saybrook, Connecticut. Picton Press.
5.  Brophy, Elaine D. Res & comp.  They lived in Windsor: A Reconstruction of the 1890 Census for Windsor Connecticut.
6.  Groves, Marlene A. Vital Records of Woolich, Maine. Maine Genealogical Society. Gorham, Me 2015. (Hardcover, 646 pages, name index, 1742-1891, $49.95.)
7.  Saxbe Jr., William B., FASG. Richard Bowen (1594?-1675) of Rehoboth, Massachusetts and His Descendants: Volume 3- Generation 5. Rhode Island Genealogical Society, Williamstown, MA, 2015. (Hard cover, 708 pp, additions and corrections to Vols, 1 and 2, $50. Order from the Rhode Island Genealogical Society, P.O. Box 211,Hope, RI 02831).
8.  Gibb, Dr. Carson. The New Early Settlers of MarylandIf anyone can find this book for the library, the librarian and staff genealogist would be in your debt.  It is out of print and not available in the traditional book seller establishments. This research database lists individual settlers who are named in the Maryland land patent volumes from 1633 to 1683 and one land warrant volume from 1681-1685. 

9.  Dinan, Jacqueline.  In Search  of  Barnabas Horton: From English Baker to Long Island Proprietor, 1600-1680. Pynsleade Books, Brooklyn, New York, 2015. (Soft cover, 421 pp$45, Order from the publisher, 551 1st Street, Brooklyn, NY 11215 or online at
10. Harris, Gale Ion, FASB.  Harrises of Connecticut: Scattered Descendants. McNaughton & Gunn, Saline, MI, 2012. (Hardcover, index of names, $30.00 Order from the author: 1312 Basswood Cir., East Lansing, MI 48823.)
11. Garn, Lynn Edwin.  The Garn Family, Including Carn, Garnes, Garns and Gern. Bedford County Historical Society, Bedford, PA. (7112 pp., illustrations, charts, reproductions, appendices, indexes.  Order from Bedford County Historical Society, 6441 Lincoln Hwy., Bedford, PA 15522;

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Virginia Genealogical Society Conference Coming Up in April

The Virginia Genealogical Society and Friends of the Virginia State Archives are having a joint conference on April 29-30, 2016, "The Library of Virginia: Records and Research Strategies," at The Library of Virginia, Richmond. The packed two-day agenda with notable speakers requires advance registration. Please consult the full brochure  for all of the information. 

Friday, February 12, 2016

HOB Adds Seven New Ancestors

The new seven ancestors added to our Ancestor Roster are:

William Hearne, 1627-1691, son Thomas m Sarah Newbold, and m Mary X.

Gillis Fonda, c1616-c1659, dau Giertje m Jan Brickers, NY, m Hester Jans

Hester Jans, c1617 - c 1690, dau Giertje m Jan Brickers, NY, m Gillis Fonda

John English, X-1678, dau Frances m John Iles, VA, m X

John Iles, X-1676/77, dau Frances m Thomas Housden, VA, m Frances English

Thomas Housden, X-1690, dau Frances m Robert Tucker, VA m Frances Iles

Elisha Paine, 1658-1735/36, dau Dorcas m David Adams, MA, and m Rebecca Doane

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Website Visits Increase Considerably

       By the end of December 2015 we had had 1,860 visitors to our Members Only website, and 8,302 visitors to our public site. Throughout the year, nine new posts were put on Members Only, and ten new posts were added to the public website.  

     The most  read pages were:
How to Become a Member - 264 Visitors 
About Our Chapter - 241 Visitors 
Chapter Committees - 172 Visitors
Chapter Officers - 166 Visitors
Historical Places Marked by HOB - 112 Visitors 

     The most read posts were:
Founder Miss Mary Florence Taney - 268 Visitors
Ancestor Story: Jacques Cossart - 129 Visitors
Ancestor Stories: Webster, Johnson, etc. - 73 Visitors
Woman to Woman at Arlington Wreaths Across America - 70 Visitors
Ancestor Stories: Graves, Harris, etc. - 56 Visitors
HOB Honors Veteran Richard Sanf  - 54 Visitors
Joint Montpelier Marking - 47 Visitors
Remember May 19th - Our 100th Anniversary - 41 Visitors 

     Most of our visitors found us through google searches.
March 2015 was our largest number of page views with 852 visitors. November 2015 we had 817 visitors.