Our ancestors were not all work and no play. They worked hard but they also knew how to relax and have fun. Barn raisings, dances, fairs, church activities, and family gatherings all provided entertainment by bringing communities and families together. Music and games were often the focal point of these social activities. As the nineteenth century turned to the twentieth century, radio became an entertainment medium enjoyed by city folks and rural families alike. Where did your ancestors find their entertainment?
Resources on the Internet
The websites presented here are just a sampling of what can be found on the Internet to help you learn about how your ancestors entertained themselves. Use these website examples as a guide to customize searches for your specific research goal.
Popular Songs in American History: Tunes, lyrics, information, and historical background of popular songs in American history.
Music for the Nation – American Sheet Music – 1820-1860: From the Library of Congress American Memory Collection, this online collection contains more than 15,000 pieces of sheet music that follow the development of popular music during the nineteenth century
Published Music in America 1870-1885: Includes links to scanned images of the actual sheet music.
Civil War Music Site: This site contains everything from fife & drum music to Civil War song lyrics and photographs of Civil War musicians to help you learn about the war’s musical side.
The Fifties Web: A website devoted to everything from the 1950s (with some 1960s and 1970s thrown in).
19th Century Parlor Games: From the Back In My Time: A Writer’s Guide to the 19th Century blog, descriptions of the most popular parlor games from the 1800s.
Dr. Toy’s Toy History: A timeline of classic toys that are still produced today.
Pioneer Children’s Games: What did children do before television and video games? This website will show you.
1920 Movies: Learn about the early years in film making.
Old Time Radio on Internet Archive: Listen to and download old time radio shows from the extensive collection on Internet Archive.
Evolution of 19th Century Baseball Rules: A synopsis of rule changes in the game of baseball between the years 1845 and 1900.
Research Questions to Consider
What did they do for recreation?
How did they spend their leisure time?
What hobbies did they have?
Did they take vacations? Where did they travel to?
Did the family get a daily newspaper? Weekly newspaper?
Were there magazines and books in the house?
Did they play a musical instrument? If so, what?
What style of music was popular when they were young?
What radio or television shows did they listen to or watch?
Did the family like to go to the movies often?
Were there recreational offerings in their community?
What kinds of games did they play?
Did they live near the beach or the mountains? Did they recreate at these locales?
Did they pay frequent visits to neighbors and family?
Did they go to dances?