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by Maureen A. Taylor

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# Sunday, 13 November 2016
Behind the Scenes in Old Photos: How Your Ancestors Got The Thanksgiving Turkey
Posted by Diane


Few tables in America are without a turkey on Thanksgiving Day. It's an old tradition to roast a bird (although whether a turkey was actually at the Pilgrims' Thanksgiving is unknown).

This father, accompanied by his young son, went to pick out a turkey big enough for their family gathering. (See the picture larger here.) In the middle of the photo, the poultry farmer weighs a turkey on a scale. The two men on the right of the image may be buying that particular specimen. Behind them are a lot of turkey's already cleaned and ready for purchase.  Doesn't look like they sell gravy and potatoes like the farm I used to go to though!

The Bain News Agency took this image around 1910-1915. It's a great everyday scene captured for a newspaper. The George Grantham Bain Collection at the Library of Congress contains thousands of images of newsworthy pictures.

This photo connects us to our ancestors. For years I visited a turkey farm to purchase the main course, but most nowadays get a frozen or fresh turkey from the grocery store. Our ancestors either shot one, took one from their own poultry stock or bought one in a setting like this. They were also available in city butcher shops.

While shopping is usually done by women in the family, from this image it appears that obtaining the turkey was man's work. It was usually Mom's job to pluck and clean the bird.

Preserve your Thanksgiving celebration by making like a news photographer:
  • If you buy your turkey at a farm, take a picture. That farm may not always be around. By doing so you're documenting a bit of local history.

  • I'm not sure how a grocery store would feel about you taking pictures as you shop, but imagine your grandchildren looking back on that image years from now. What would be familiar or foreign to them?

  • Using a video app on your smart phone, make a movie of a relative preparing a traditional side-dish or dessert. If they'd rather not be photographed, try zooming in on their hands and the ingredients.
  • Take pictures of guests. You can also delegate that responsibility to a younger member of the family, and have the child ask each person a family history question.

The StoryCorps Great American Thanksgiving Listen encourages families to share stories this holiday. You may be asked by a student in your family for an interview. If not, be the person to bring up family history!


Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Family Photo Detective: Learn How to Find Genealogy Clues in Old Photos and Solve Family Photo Mysteries
  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album
  • Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Photo-Organizing Practices
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Searching for Family History Photos: How to Get Them Now

  • SaveSaveSaveSave
    1900-1910 photos | storycorps | thanksgiving
    Sunday, 13 November 2016 18:54:04 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 22 November 2015
    Thanksgiving Shopping in Old Photos
    Posted by Maureen

    1919, Library of Congress

    This little girl is delighted with her Thanksgiving turkey but I'm not sure how I would have felt about carrying home a turkey complete with feet and head. Shudder!  A lot has changed in our Thanksgiving prep.

    The 1918 Fannie Farmer cookbook came with instructions on how to prepare poultry.  My grandmother's likely bought birds like this and did everything from cutting off the heads to cleaning out the cavity.  As a child I watched my father's mother singe off any remaining feathers from chicken whether they were present or not. It was a long ingrained habit and likely a cooking skill she developed early. 

    In addition to the turkey in this picture are a lot of clothing clues for the period. Take a good look at the girl's legs.  She's wearing long leggings beneath her dress to keep her legs warm.  In the background the woman looking at the action wears a plush (perhaps fur jacket) and wool hat decorated with botanicals (berries and branches).  Her dress is a little long for 1919, but it fashion sense due to the cold weather.


    1919, Library of Congress

    This young boy holds a thin but enormous turkey.  He's worn jacket and pants suggest that he could be working at the market rather than buying something for his mother.

    Neither child wears gloves! Wonder if either child got ill from handling raw poultry. They are unnamed in these photographs so researching their lives isn't possible.

    As you get ready to celebrate Thanksgiving, ask older relatives about their roles in meal preparation and their childhood traditions. Download the free Storycorps app to your phone and join in the #TheGreatListen2015. Documenting our contemporary family history starts with a story.

    Happy Thanksgiving!


    Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Family Photo Detective: Learn How to Find Genealogy Clues in Old Photos and Solve Family Photo Mysteries
  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album
  • Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Photo-Organizing Practices
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Searching for Family History Photos: How to Get Them Now


  • 1910s photos | children | holiday | thanksgiving | World War I | storycorps
    Sunday, 22 November 2015 18:11:49 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [1]