Can You Imagine Life Without Salt?
SHARON TATE MOODYVisualize living in the South in 1862. It's time to kill a hog or cow in order to feed your family. Just finding an animal to kill is a challenge - Yankees have been stealing your livestock to feed their invading army.
Published: October 12, 2008
Published: October 12, 2008
But once you've found and slaughtered an animal, how are you going to preserve it without salt?
The commodity that we take for granted was hard to come by during the Civil War. In the days before refrigeration, it was the only means of preserving meat after the slaughter.
By 1862, Union forces had captured most of the Confederate salt mines and blockaded shipments from England. States had to ration what salt they could get, and those allotment documents are among the odd records that genealogists can use to understand their ancestors' lives.
Georgia Gov. Joe Brown signed an executive order in 1862 authorizing apportionments of salt to families of soldiers in the Confederate Army. A half-bushel allotment was free to a soldier's widow; $1 for a widow with a son in service; and $2.50 for heads of families.
Clerks of local courts developed lists of individuals qualified to draw the salt allotments and sent them to the commissary office. The state then delivered the salt to the counties for distribution.
These records contain no vital events data, such as dates of births, deaths or marriages. But knowledge of them will open your mind and increase your desire to study history of the time in which your ancestors lived.
For example, I found the record of my third great-grandmother's allotment. It says Rebecca Hulsey qualified because she was a widow with a son serving in the Confederacy.
As with all records, researchers must ask themselves about the accuracy of what they find - did anyone have a reason to falsify the record? As a widow with a son in the Confederate Army, Rebecca qualified to get the salt for $1 a bushel. Without the "widow" label, she would have paid $2.50 as head of her household.
Rebecca was not a widow; she was the unmarried mother of five illegitimate children. She did have two sons in the Confederate Army, so perhaps the local officials were willing to let her run the "widow" scam for the cheaper fee.
I've never made moral judgment on my ancestor for her unmarried mother status. In fact, she intrigues me - she's the ancestor whose records I will never cease to hunt. This tiny bit of information from the salt records shows me she was willing to lie to care for her family.
The existence of these records moves a genealogist to study and learn more about the times. Much has been written about the harsh conditions of soldiers in both Union and Confederate armies. The book and film versions of "Gone With the Wind" gave a historically accurate insight into the conditions under which civilians lived on the farms with their soldiers and slaves gone.
But I wonder how many of us would have learned about the value of salt had these old records not been discovered in the 20th century at the Georgia Archives, boxed and preserved but unstudied. That's where you Georgia researchers can check to see if your ancestor qualified for a salt allotment.
In one of the most vivid scenes in "Gone With the Wind," Scarlett was on hands and knees, having dug an old sweet potato from the ground. She raised her fist in the air and swore she would never be hungry again.
If author Margaret Mitchell had known about the importance of salt, she might have written that scene differently. Records show that Southern families literally dug salty dirt from areas where they previously had cured meat. They boiled the soil and strained it to get salt.
Survival of the salt records may be unique to Georgia, but everyone who lived in the South shared the deprivation of it. It is an angle few genealogists have considered.
Every community had something special, perhaps even unique, that mattered to its residents. As family historians, we must ferret out and study those things before we truly can appreciate the lives and times of each generation in our pedigree.
Never walk away from an old record without digging to find out why it was created and why it was worth preserving. Even if your ancestor isn't named in the records, understanding them may give you insight into parts of his or her life within the community.
You should ask many questions to train your brain to think outside the routine records search. Once you've framed a question, search n to see if anyone created a record that might hold the answers. Here are a few:
•If Great-Grandpa was a farmer, what crops did he grow? What is required of a farmer for that particular crop? Did he grow it just to feed or clothe his family, or did he sell it? Who were his customers?
•If the ancestor was a manufacturer, what did he make? How did he get into that profession? What role did his company play in the community?
•If he was a merchant, what were his wares? Was his store the heart of the community? Was it home to the old wooden stove and checkerboard, where locals gathered to swap news?
•Many ancestors worked in industry as common laborers. Usually members of every family in the community worked in the same industry. Investigate the sort of work they did and find out what life would have been like.
•What events affected everyone and perhaps changed them? Maybe the aircraft industry built a manufacturing plant in the area during World War II. A female relative could have been a Rosie the Riveter - explore that angle.
•Did the Tennessee Valley Authority build a dam and flood parts of the area? Whose homes and cemeteries did the waters take?
•Did the railroad come to town? Did it change the community, and did your ancestor play a role?
The questions are endless. Answers may be elusive, but the challenge of the search is what makes genealogy fun. Inquire at local libraries; inspect manuscripts and special manuscripts at colleges and universities, historical and genealogical societies, state and national archives. Get out there and find those special records. Oh, the wealth of information that awaits you!
Pinellas Society Meeting
I will be lecturing at the Pinellas County Genealogy Society on Saturday. The free program, "Speaking From the Grave: Exploring Your Ancestors' Probate Files," will be in the Jenkins Auditorium at the Largo Public Library, 120 Central Park Drive. It begins at 11 a.m.
Write to Sharon Tate Moody in care of The Tampa Tribune, 200 S. Parker St., Tampa, FL 33606; or e-mail stmoody0720