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Better Than Google

The good old days...How good were they?  Well, if you want an idea what life was like in the past, say the 1940s and 1950s, you could ask grandma and grandpa, or, you could log on to the Grey House database, which contains This is Who We Were and Working Americans.  Although it is not key word searchable, unfortunately, you can still find anecdotal and factual information by clicking on the table of contents of each volume to read the text. Both databases are based on print books, which are available to check out, but the on-line version is very convenient, and highly entertaining.

These databases provide the daily life behind the history.  For example, Working Americans, volume 3 1880-1999 features what life was like for the upperclass.  Fans of Downton Abbey can read about what life was like for an heiress in 1897 New York.  These top 5 percenters lived a life of luxury and indolence, we can only imagine (or envy).  For a stark contrast, take a look at Working Americans volume 1, 1880-2012, which looks at the lives of the ordinary.  The Lundens, an immigrant family from Norway, work ceaselessly on their Iowa farm, speaking Norwegian at home, and avoiding the doctor.

Who We Were covers the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.  The 1930s have been incorporated into the 1940 volume.  Guess how much a movie cost in 1961? How about $.75!  An Admiral refrigerator cost $189.95 in 1953! What a bargain you might say, but what were wages like?  That same year, a public school teacher earned $3,314 annually.  Well, maybe that refrigerator isn't so cheap after all.

The 1940 Who We Were has the advantage of being tied into the census.  The latest census release was the 1940, since the government waits 70 years to release a census. So, not only do you get census information, but a good deal of economic information for that crucial 1930-1940 time period in our history. The information is a fascinating snapshot of who we were, whether it is a chart of where our foreign born population hailed from, or a glimpse into the privileged world of a sugar heiress building a new home in Hawaii.

I can't help but think what a good source of information this would be for a writer of historical fiction, or a student, or merely the curious.  So what was life like in the good old days?  Like today, it depends on your circumstances.  As this database proves, it was very, very good for some, and pretty dismal for others.

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