Ancestors–They Were (Sort of) Just Like Us!

There is an American tabloid that has a section in every issue entitled “Stars–They’re Just Like Us!” which consists of pictures of celebrities doing ordinary things–buying groceries, walking the dog, etc.  Researching my ancestors has taught me that people living long ago did quite a few things that most people do today, and that they were in many ways just like us.  Sort of.

They bought groceries and other sundries.  Except for the pig I have bought all of the things on the bill below.

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1831 bill from Rockland County, N.Y. for pork, potatoes, shoes, wine and a pig.

They occasionally got a new mattress, or at least the materials needed to make one.


1795 bill from Albert Oblenis to his newlywed brother Bernard for feathers, tape, fabric, bed cord and delivery to the ferry.

They built homes, remodeled and redecorated, though many were far more involved in the actual construction than most people are today.

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Peter Oblenis’ 1798 letter to his brother Bernard re  plans to build a house.

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1872 bill for fabric, fixtures and tassels for window treatments for the home of John Augustus Bogert (1845-1900).

They gardened, though apparently not in ancient shorts and t-shirts like I do.  Some of the apples listed below were probably intended for the manufacture of the local applejack known as Jersey Lightning.

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Dr. J. J. Haring working in his garden in Tenafly, N.J. 1911.

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Undated list of apple trees in a Bergen County, N.J. orchard.  I have heard of Pippins and Lady Apple but several, esp. Paramus Sweet, must have been local heirloom varieties.

They planned funerals, which used to include the gift of a pair of black kid gloves to the minister and each pallbearer.

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Bill for the funeral of the Rev. Dupuytren Vermilye in 1907.

They grieved.  In the letter below William House struggles with the loss of his wife, Wyntje Oblenis, referring to her as his “best and only Company.”  He is grateful for his three children’s health since “it has pleased [God] to take away their tender mother,” and he has not written sooner because of his great distress.


1797 letter from William House to his brother-in-law Bernard Oblenis, one month after the death of his wife

They advertised when they wanted to sell things.

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They joined groups, some of which still exist.

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Bernard Oblenis’ invitation to the Manhattan Farmers’ Society meeting in 1803.

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Bernard Oblenis Bogert’s 1926 election to the National Geographic Society.


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