01 January 2008

Okanagan Researcher: A Treasure from the Past

Okanagan Researcher, Vol. 16 (3), March 2000 A Treasure From the Past


Maggie Nuyten

An old manuscript book containing recipes and remedies was given to me by my father before he died. This book was passed to him from his Aunt Cissie to be kept for me. The oral tradition was that the book had been passed from mother to daughter or closest female relative since it had been started many years before. The books "back" was not broken although it's cover was in a sad state and was only attached by a few threads. The pages inside seemed to be in reasonably good shape apart from a few at the beginning which had the edges torn.

It was 1991 before I would have the time to do more than take it out of the brown paper bag it had been stored in. My only idea, at that time, was to put the book into a safe situation and condition, one that would make it possible for me to be able to pass the book on to one of my daughters in due course. The British Columbia Museum in Victoria helped me to find an antique book restorer who removed all the pages so that I could have copies made. Some of the original pages were too fragile to work with on a regular basis. After studying the writing, using the copies, I realised that the book had been muddled up; some of the oldest writing was NOT in order. Years later, after many tries I was able to rearrange the pages as they had been when the book was started. This was only possible with a lot of patience, time and the help of a grapho analyst, the watermarks inside the paper and a correct series of page numbers. The page numbers had been altered a few times by possibly three different people in the early 1800s; the earlier writers had originally composed and followed a well organised plan only to have it rearranged by their descendants. It was a great breakthrough and Mr. Asfhar was able then to rebind the book and make a special air-tight case for it. Everyone who had helped me with the sorting and preservation advised me to publish it, the University and Museum people all told me that they had not seen a recipe book which covered such a long period of time in one family. It is interesting from the point of view of historians, genealogists, grapho-analysts, women's studies, pharmacists, cooks, linguists and others.

Now came the genealogy work to find the writers' names and relationships. I knew NOTHING about beginning this task. The Genealogy Club in Kelowna showed me the basics and the LDS History Library was absolutely essential and tremendously helpful for my tracking down Aunt Cissie and her whole family. I did have some family oral records but most of the written ones are now not accessible because they are in the possession of a cousin who does not answer my requests for help. Aunt Cissie did not have any children, neither did any of her nieces so she chose the eldest great-niece (me), to inherit the book. It appears that her Aunt Jane gave her the book because she also did not have any children. Neither of Jane's sisters married so I presume that the book was passed to her in the hope that she would have a daughter. Alternately I need to trace her husband's family because it is possible that Jane received the book from her mother-in-law. Although I had heard parts of this story before I felt I had to prove the dates and certification before I could publish. I now know the dates of deaths, marriages, baptisms, names and addresses of the people who wrote in the book, back to about 1796. There I am stuck, stuck along with a few other genealogists researching the same family.

There is much oral history but none of it checks out, even Harry Susans has not been able to help. Maybe the family just dropped out of space!!!!!! Many of you know the feeling I am sure. This puzzle is not something I will just leave although I am now in the last stages of publishing the book. If and when I manage to trace the last three or four people (fortunately one person wrote recipes and remedies over a period of about seventy years according to the grapho-analyst), I will add the information so that my children have a complete history of the book back to 1650 when the first page was written. I plan to write my recipes and remedies in a second book which Mr. Asfhar has made from all the extra unused pages, watermarked 1827, they are stronger and whiter than any paper I have seen in books published 40 years ago.

Tracing these family ancestors has entailed writing many letters and e-mails to various parts of England, Australia, Europe etc. I have been amazed at how helpful people have been: for example the Brighton Museum in Sussex was able to identify a whole page of titles of dance music, which I had thought to be Public House names, from 1827. This turned out to be a great clue, which I am still following. The archivists of many counties helped a lot. Harry Susans, a genealogist, in London, England, found wills and death certificates for me. On a trip to England the people at the records offices, Guildhall, Museums, the British Museum, London University, the Welcom Institute, Arundel Castle etc. etc. were helpful and interested. The LDS library of fiches and films provided another great wealth of information and I appreciated the people who helped me with learning to use them. I learned that one has to follow any clue, even if it seems absurd at the time, often it proves to be the final piece of a particular puzzle. Also it was so easy to get off-track and start researching other angles about recipes and/or other parts of the family; for example: I found information and saw examples of the beautiful paintings done by one ancestor which now are stored at the Tate Gallery in London and it was hard not to be fascinated by the various herb concoctions and their possible modern usage.

This searching for my ancestors is continuing for me especially around the recipe book. I find the remedies and food ideas are fascinating and I would like to have the time to try some of them. A Pharmacist told me that we still use many of the herbs etc. but often under different names or put together under a brand name and patent. Somehow though the ones using opium, musk and truffles may be a little hard to duplicate and would be awfully expensive.