Everyone who knows me knows that I love using cookbooks for genealogy. I know when you envision a cookbook your first thought isn’t that it’s a genealogy source. Obviously, not all cookbooks are genealogy sources. That latest cookbook from your favorite food celebrity is most likely not genealogically relevant. But that community cookbook definitely is.
What are genealogy sources? Genealogy sources have names, dates, and places. They help us either connect family members to each other or place a person in time and location. The latter is what community cookbooks do.
Community cookbooks or fundraising cookbooks are just one type of cookbook that has genealogical value. Another are the cookbooks published by newspapers that include reader recipes. These cookbooks are similar to community cookbooks in that they provide a name, date, and place. In some cases, the recipes may have originally appeared in the newspaper but then were combined together and published as a cookbook.
Rare Recipes and Budget Savers
I was reminded of what a rich resource newspaper cookbooks are when I was transcribing one from my collection for a new project by the Wichita Genealogical Society (Kansas). This project seeks to index Kansas cookbooks, allowing researchers to search for their female ancestors in a resource where her name and place can be found.*
I decided to transcribe my copy of Rare Recipes and Budget Savers (Volume 1) from The Wichita Eagle newspaper. First published in 1966, my copy is the seventeenth printing from October 1977.
Rare Recipes and Budget Savers as compiled from the Columns of the Wichita Eagle's HomeTown News, Volume 1.
I LOVE this cookbook. It not only includes women’s names but also their residence, including a street address if they are in Wichita, and in some cases extra information about their family, their ancestors, and more.
Consider just a few of this booklet’s entries. This one for Wild Grape Dumplings includes the recipe contributor’s name, the name of a Kiowa woman who gave the contributor the recipe and the city both women were from (pg. 8).
This compilation of tips titled, What to Do and How to Do It (pg. 13) includes the contributor and her mother’s name and street address. (yes, the names used are their husband’s name as is often the case in older cookbooks).
You never know what a cookbook might reveal. Consider this recipe for Cornbread Dressing (pg.33). Not only is the name of the contributor and her street address in Wichita included but you know she was not always a Kansas resident because she provides the state she is originally from, Georgia.
In this recipe for Lime Pickles, the reader learns the name of the recipe contributor, Elizabeth Capps and her sister Mrs. W.B. Wallace, as well as their street address (pg. 37).
You get the idea. This cookbook includes women’s names (or their married name), addresses, and in some cases, familial relationships. This directory of women is an important genealogical source for those trying to place their female family members in time and place.**
What's a Genealogical Source?
Is this a genealogical source? Of course! It provides names, dates, and location. Although we don’t find other important genealogical information such as a vital record event, cookbooks help us locate women in a specific location in time.
*This index is for members only but you can see what they offer from their website.
** Yes, there are some recipes contributed by men in this cookbook, but just a few.
Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.