Saturday, September 09, 2023

The games we played as children: Relievio

It's now early September. Hearing the crickets at dusk takes me back to the warm late summer evenings of yesteryear, and the sounds of neighborhood kids playing outside. 

Growing up, what were the games you played with your neighbors or siblings? Hopscotch? Stickball? Jumprope? A list of children's games is endless. But I wanted to mention a special one: Relievio. 

From age around the age of 8 to 12, this was a favorite game in our neighborhood. Relievio was a simple game, a cross between hide and seek and capture the flag, but spanned all of the properties on the street, including back yards. You needed at least a half-dozen kids to play, who were divided into teams. There was also a "jail," but the captured kids could be freed by a teammate. There were special phrases and calls, including "Ollie Ollie in come free." 

We would play after school until it got dark or it was time for dinner. On a warm night, we would go home for supper, but then come out again to play until twilight or our parents called us in. The cries of the game and shouts of glee when someone was tagged echoed throughout the neighborhood and then faded as everyone drifted home. As darkness fell, the crickets started their own calls. The block fell silent until the next day. 

I always assumed that one of our cleverer or more social friends made up Relievio, or perhaps learned of it from other kids in our town. Recently I learned that Relievio actually has a long tradition, going back to the 1800s and spreading across at least two continents under various names. The origins are obscure, but it seems to have come from Britain. The game-ending phrase that I heard as a child - "Ollie Ollie In Come Free" - was likely "All ye, all ye, in come free" at some point. We had no idea! 

Nicole grew up on the other side of the world and never heard of Relievio. But growing up, she and her siblings and friends had their own games and traditions. Every group of children did, no matter where they lived, or when they lived, as this Breughel painting shows:

Remembering these games now brings a smile to our faces!

As for our own children, our teenage son never heard of Relievio. It's sad, but it's not the first gaming tradition to fade away. I remembering hearing about kick the can, and would find scuffed marbles in the school playground, but never played these games myself - they were the domain of an older generation of children.

But other games live on. Our son played some of the same games that we did 40 or 50 years ago, including touch football and run the bases. In the winter, he went sledding with his friends. Both of our kids were enthusiastic Halloween participants through middle school. These and other childhood traditions will live on ... or perhaps be replaced by something new.

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Boom and Bust, 1800s edition

There's a story in our family dating to the late 1800s. At the time, a maternal branch living just south of the Canadian border was engaged in farming - specifically, the farming of hops, which is used to brew beer. My great-aunt takes up the story, in a hand-written written account that is now part of our family history:
“Raising hops was very profitable at one time in Northern New York which caused my grandfather to buy a farm and take up raising this crop. The farm was in Burke, New York. Unfortunately, there was one bad year. When the price of hops went so low that he was ruined. He had to go back to his original trade.”

I've heard variations of this tale that this hops-growing ancestor was a millionaire on paper one day, and completely broke the next. But it wasn't the end of the world. My great-great grandfather was able to fall back on his original trade - stonemasonry, which his Irish-born father had taught him. Life went on. 

 I bring up this tale because much of the world is currently headed toward a deep economic crisis. Inflation. Energy shortages. Stock market selloffs. Wild fluctuations in the supply of certain types of goods. Layoffs

Sure, it's worrying. But most people reading this can remember recessions, layoffs, gas shortages, and inflation that was even worse. Before the pandemic, I experienced 3 major downturns as an adult - the early 1990s recession, the 2000 dot-com crash, and the 2008 financial crisis. I have childhood memories of the 1970s oil embargoes. A few readers may even recall the darkest days of the Great Depression, when the unemployment rate hit nearly 25% and Social Security wasn't yet available

 We'll get through it this time, just as we did back then.

Thursday, April 20, 2023

This old house: old owners come back

Old house owners
Do you ever get mail for people who used to live at your address? We do. It's usually junk. Until now, we have always marked it "return to sender."

But a piece of mail from a state retirement system a few weeks ago looked too important to send back. Through a neighbor, we contacted the previous owners of the house, who lived in it from 1991 to 2005, and asked if we could forward the mail to their new address. They said that they were going to be in the area the following day, and we could give it to them in person.

Why not? We had some questions about the house, and knew that they probably wanted to see what it looked like as they had done a lot to improve the property and had raised a family there.

So we invited them over. And it was a lot of fun! We were surprised to learn that they were only the third owners of the house, which was built in 1916. They purchased it from an elderly lady who was related to the original owners.

When they got it, the house had good bones. But it needed a lot of TLC, including a new roof, better drainage, work on the gardens, and work on the interior. We learned about the plants they had planted, the construction they had completed, and the little things that seemed strange to us when we moved in in 2007 but made perfect sense once they explained the situation that faced them in the 1990s.

We laughed about the house's quirks, such as the roof's tendency to attract nesting birds. Or, carrying the window air conditioners up from the cellar every June, and taking them down in October. One year, when Steve was mounting the air conditioner, he pushed too hard and the air conditioner went right out the window to the garden below!

We also talked about some of the same activities that our families had done, such as waiting for the bus when the kids were little, or going down to the river nearby to canoe. The house has mysteries like the outdoor hatch (anyone remember the history mystery from last year?) and the check stubs an electrician found in the attic crawlspace.

If you have a chance to talk with the previous owners of your house, do it! It's an opportunity to learn about the history of your house ... and pass down stories to the next family.

Friday, March 17, 2023

The Amish come for furniture, and how to age a dovetail joint

Last summer, I went to northern New York, to work on a construction project on a family property and blog about genealogy and family history when I could. Here is an anecdote that relates to antique furniture and a visit from an Amish family.

We are demolishing an old structure. There are lots of items to give away, as well as a smaller number of special things we want to keep for the new cabin that will be built on the site.

We have already given a wood-burning stove made of iron and several beds to a local Amish family, whose two middle sons, aged 18 and 19, loaded it up on the biggest horse-drawn wagon I have ever seen:

Amish taking furniture
I was about to give away a chest of drawers to them. It's a piece of so-called "brown furniture" that is well made but not very popular nowadays.  

“Don’t give it away," my parents said. "It’s a nice piece of walnut furniture with dovetail joints.”

That interested me. Dovetail joints are an old-fashioned method of manufacture. It went out of style 150 years ago, but furniture made this way is renowned for quality construction.

I looked on the outside of the chest and couldn’t see any dovetail joints.

My father took out one of the drawers and showed me. I couldn't believe how small and fragile they looked, but they had held together this chest of drawers since sometime in the 1800s!

dovetail joint antique furniture
“The smaller the dovetail, the older the piece,” my father said. They are indeed tiny, a testament to the skill of the artisan who made it.

We are keeping the chest. But I also took a lesson to heart: Important details are easily missed. Sometimes, you need to look twice. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

A brick wall breakthrough for Granny Wallace

granny wallace

The lady in the photo above is my great-great grandmother, or "Granny Wallace," as my great aunt used to call her.

We didn't know much about Granny Wallace. She was born in the 1830s or 1840s. She moved around, living in 3 or 4 countries over the course of her life. She married twice.

I recently made an unusual major brick wall breakthrough, thanks to FamilySearch's database of free genealogy records. I typed in my great-great grandmother's maiden name in the basic records search. There were only three results, but one of them was pure genealogy gold!

It was Granny Wallace's 1891 marriage record from what is now Niagara Falls in Ontario. It showed her second marriage, and confirmed a story that my great aunt had told me decades ago - that after Granny Wallace's first husband died, she married the brother. Indeed, the marriage record showed that she married the younger brother. She was 50 at the time, and her new groom, himself a widower, was 41.

Crucially, the record confirms the birthplaces of the newlyweds. It also contains the names of both sets of parents, which I had not known. It further lists their religions - she was Baptist, he Presbyterian. It's enough information for me to dig further back in time on both lines over the winter.

It was an unusual find because I have searched FamilySearch hundreds of times for my great-great grandmother. She never turned up under her maiden name. But one of the wonderful aspects of FamilySearch is the regular addition of new records from all over the world. The 1891 Canadian marriage record must have been added in the last year or two.

The lesson for family historians: For genealogy brick walls, the passage of time can loosen the mortar. Re-check online databases and family trees to see if any new information has turned up since the last time you looked!