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Find A Mug Book

Genealogists doing research on people who lived in the nineteenth century need to look for a mug book.

By “mug book”, I do not mean the collection of photos of criminals kept by the police. I mean the kind of books put together by towns and counties in the late 1800’s to preserve the history of their pioneer days. Genealogists call these publications mug books.

These books offer a gold mine to the genealogist. They include information on families that settled in the locality, the history of the area, and descriptions of the local geography. Often they include valuable lists, too, like names of those who served in the Civil War, or names of all the pastors of the local churches.

This week I have spent time reviewing a couple of county histories from Coles County, Illinois. My Carter, Reed, Kirkham, and Templeton ancestors settled in Coles County when the area first opened for settlement about 1829. The county histories, or mug books, date from 1879 and 1905. The children of the original settlers were still living then, and they may well have contributed information to these books. From these, I gleaned family information that otherwise was lost.

I learned that John Carter was from Kentucky. He worked occasionally as a blacksmith but did not follow it as a regular business. He gave it up for other pursuits when another man set up shop. Forty years later, John’s daughter and her husband continued to live on the same land where John built his first cabin.

I learned that Caleb Reed was a charter member of the Freemason Lodge in 1863, and he served as Junior Warden. His father Thomas, a pioneer settler, came from Kentucky, too.

One of the books, the 1879 History of Coles County, includes wonderful anecdotes of pioneer life. Unfortunately, the writer attached no names to the stories.

For example, the book tells of a local minister’s preaching tour where he stopped in to visit various settlers and to share a meal. At one backwoods cabin he found the parents relaxing by the fire and smoking cob-pipes. The daughter was cooking a meal of stewed coon and buckwheat batter. The book goes on to relate that “A portion of the hem of some of her undergarments had been torn from its native place and was dangling within an inch or two of the floor, and as she would move about the fire, it would now and then draggle in the frying batter…When dinner was announced a little later, he could eat but a few mouthfuls.”

Was this my family? I will never know, but stories like these give us a great picture of the everyday lives of our ancestors. When doing research in the 1800’s time frame, especially in the Midwest, is usually pays off to consult a mug book.

 

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