Note from Missy: Below is a guest post by my friend Gena Philibert-Ortega on using community cookbooks to further your genealogical research. How fun it would be to discover a new-to-you recipe once cooked by an ancestor or relative. Enjoy!
By Gena Philibert-Ortega
During this week of guest posting about food and family history, I’ve mentioned the importance of community cookbooks. In my opinion, community cookbooks are an important source that is overlooked in genealogical research. Researching these cookbooks can yield names, addresses, photos, ethnic origins and family history. In addition to the information about an individual family member you also glean clues about the organization that published the cookbook, their history, local business advertisements and other gems. In one church cookbook where I found a list of those buried in the church cemetery. This type of information can help you recreate your female ancestor’s community.
Community cookbooks like other genealogical documents do have their down side, they can be difficult to find. Many repositories have not considered them worthy of archiving so to find a collection for your ancestor’s locality can be difficult.
To begin your search, as with any genealogical search, start with the homes of relatives. In some cases they may have a copy of a cookbook that they or another family member contributed to. From there consider checking available bibliographies, 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, antique and thrift stores.
Two bibliographies that may assist you are:
Cook, Margaret. America’s Charitable Cooks: A Bibliography of Fund-Raising Cook Books Published in the United States (1861-1915). Kent, Ohio, 1971.
Driver, Elizabeth. Culinary Landmarks: A Bibliography of Canadian Cookbooks, 1825-1949. Toronto [Ont.: University of Toronto Press, 2008. I
Collections of community cookbooks can be found in libraries. I have links to these collections on my blog Food.Family.Epherma. The following is a list of just a few of these collections:
Los Angeles Public Library
William L Clements Library, University of Michigan
University of Illinois Library
Radcliff Institute, Harvard University, Schlesinger Library
While a library or archive in your ancestor’s locality might hold the promise of a collection of community cookbooks, another place to search is an Internet auction site like eBay. Community cookbooks are well represented on eBay. These cookbooks run the gamut of church, school, and organizational books spanning the 19th and 20th century.
When searching on eBay, make sure to try various keywords so that you search can be as comprehensive as possible. Some search terms to try include “community cookbook” “church cookbooks” or “charity cookbooks” “fundraising cookbooks.” You can also specify a type of cookbook in your search like “Grange Cookbook” or “Methodist Cookbook.” Consider creating an alert for an ancestor’s locality, church, membership organization or a cookbook search to be notified by eBay when new items come up for sale.
One book that explores community cookbooks is the book, Recipes for Reading: Community Cookbooks, Stories, Histories edited by Anne L. Bower. A preview of this book is available from Google Books.
To read more about community cookbooks, please consult my new book From the Family Kitchen. I also spotlight recipes from community cookbooks weekly on my blog Food.Family.Ephemera