Sunday, January 29, 2012

52 Weeks of Abundant Genealogy: Week 5 Life Experiences

This is Week 5 of Amy Coffin’s Abundant Genealogy series.   I started to skip this week because I haven’t been able to think of a good answer.  But I’m determined to stick with it, so I am offering a not-so-good answer.

Life Experiences: Sometimes the challenges in life provide the best learning experiences. Can you find an example of this in your own family tree? Which brick wall ancestor are you most thankful for, and how did that person shape your family history experience?

Ida Mary Davis was my great grandfather Walter Davis’s sister.  She was born to Mitchell and Martha Ann Wilson Davis 25 Jun 1869.  She married William Layton Morris December 12, 1890.  They had two sons:  Lionel born in 1891 and Mitchell 1893.  In 1895 at the age of 21, Layton Morris was struck with Bright’s disease and died.

In the 1900 Rockingham County, Virginia census, I don’t know where Ida was, but evidently she was unable to take care of her sons on her own.  I found Lionel living with his grandmother Martha Davis.  At the opposite side of the county, Mitchell was living with the other grandmother, Nancy Morris. 

In 1910, Mitchell was still with his grandmother Nancy Morris, now in Washington DC.  She was running a boarding house and Mitchell was an apprentice carpenter. Ida Mary’s mother had died, so Lionel came to live with her in Elkton where she and a daughter Dorothy were renting a house on Ward Avenue (apparently this road no longer exists, at least not on Google Maps).  Lionel helped out by taking odd jobs.  Ida Mary was earning a living as a washer woman.

Washer woman.  Washer woman.

I can’t get that word out of my mind.  No honest work is unworthy, but what difficult work that had to be.  In 1910 there was no laundry detergent.  Ida Mary probably grated soap flakes from some hand-made bar of hard soap.  I wonder if she was able to afford a “modern” washing machine like this one:

Image from Google Images

or if she simply had a tub and washboard like this:

Image from Google Images

I wonder if she suffered from washer woman syndrome.  (I didn’t know there was such a syndrome!)  It’s a form of tendonitis caused by the repetition of hand movements like wringing out wet clothes, pinching and squeezing.  Washer woman syndrome is also called Mommy Thumb, Mother’s Wrist, and of course, more scientific terms like radial styloid tenosynovitis and De Quervain’s Syndrome in honor of the doctor who first identified it.

But back to the question about lessons learned from life experiences.  I don’t know if Ida Mary was proud of being an independent woman who eked out a living washing other people’s clothes or if she was bitter at being widowed at such a young age forced to leave her children with grandparents.  I don’t know if she viewed her own life as any harder than anyone else’s.  But as I sit in my very comfortable home able to play around with my genealogy and blog thanks to early retirement, I am glad not to be her. 


  1. It is absolutely amazing how much the way we do laundry has changed since the early 1900s. It must have been so very difficult to be a widow in an era when there were few career options for women.

  2. What a tough life. I can't imagine!