What they say about family history
Old church cookbooks have been around since the 1930s. Of course they’re filled with recipes. But what makes them great for family history is that they are also loaded with names. These cookbooks don’t just tell us what foods these people ate. They tell us so much more!
Some of the many interesting things to learn about our ancestors from old church cookbooks are:
- The name of the community where they lived
- Information about the church they attended (their religion)
- Names of people and families that probably knew them
- The foods they ate that they considered their best or favorite recipes
Some of the old church cookbooks may also contain other information such as:
- Businesses who donated money to fund the cookbook in return for advertising
- The committee members who helped put the cookbook together
- Handwritten notes by the cook who owned the book
Where can you find these old church cookbooks?
I once traded a lady an old church cookbook for a piece of vintage Pyrex that I didn’t have in my collection. She saw me buying it at a thrift store and said that she wished she would have found it because it’s the church that her mom attended. She offered to pay me for it, but I would have given it to her. After insisting on paying, I suggested a trade. I saw how much her family history meant to her and it was really nice to see her heart full by having that cookbook. She mentioned how fun it was to read all the names of her mother’s friends again.
So, where are good places to find the old church cookbooks? Here are some suggestions:
- Thrift stores
- Garage sales, tag sales, estate sales
- online site like eBay, Etsy, or addall
- other family members
- genealogical library
- historical society
- ask a friend if they have any – I have a small collection!
And, yes, you can buy compilations for old church cookbook recipes. It’s a lot of fun to have the best of the best, but if you really want to get into the homes of the people your ancestor’s knew and the community they were living in, then you want to find the real thing. If you’d like a great compilation cookbook that also has great entertainment value, along with good Midwest culture, try Lutheran Church Basement Women by Janet Martin and Allen Todnem. I have this book and love it!
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How to use church cookbooks for family history
First, find the church where your relative attended worship. You can search census records or city directories to find the town where they lived. A good place to start your search for this information is Ancestry.com or Family Search.
The next step, once you know where they lived, is to search online. I suggest that you go to Cyndi’s List. On Cyndi’s List, select the state where your ancestor lived. Then search under the “religion and churches” category.
Finally, use the resources above to some old church cookbooks for the town or church where your relative attended. Read through them, paying attention to the introduction and any index. Look through it for advertising and for anything that will add to your ancestors’ story.
What I’ve learned from the old church cookbooks
I really haven’t found any earth shattering details about my relatives – yet. I’m still searching for books from certain cities and towns where my grandmothers lived. However, I do have the old church cookbooks from the church where my mother attended. It is fun to see the recipes that she submitted.
I also use many of the recipes in those books that were submitted by women that I knew. Whenever I make a favorite recipe from the cookbook, I feel like I am carrying on a part of history when I serve it and say “these are Erma’s Sugar Cookies”. My family may never get to meet Erma, but she has a special place in our home. I wonder if any of my relatives also have a special place in someone’s home?