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Breastfeeding History

Julia Griffith
Sarasota FL USA
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 25, No. 1, January-February 2008, p. 25

Genealogy is a hobby of mine. It is history made personal. I have made some fascinating discoveries about my ancestors, especially now that there is so much information online. You can get a wonderful view into the lives of those who came before you and helped to make you who you are when you see the census documents listing all the members of the household and their occupations. I use a subscription genealogy Web site, but there are good free ones as well. I have even found information and photos of several ancestors just by searching their names on the Internet. Of course, looking in the documents your parents and grandparents have kept is the first line of inquiry. Recently, my 81-year-old mother was going through some old papers and gave me a fascinating photo that turned out to be my great-great grandmother and her nursling. Written on the back was: Sarah Varnell and son Charles, June 1870. (My mother actually met her great-uncle Charles, who lived until 1960).

Because of the research I had done checking the 1870 census online, I was able to positively identify this photo as Sarah Ann Morris Varnell, who was 34 years old when the photo was taken and looks fetching in her checked dress with discreet nursing cape. She lived with her husband, Nelson Varnell, on a farm in Whitfield County in northern Georgia, USA. Baby Charles, born March 30, 1870, was the youngest of their seven children at that time. Their oldest son, John (12) had already left school to work on the farm. The other children, Wise, Davis, and Joseph (10, eight, and six) were at school, and Margaret and James (four and two) were still at home with mom. My great-grandmother, Lula Varnell, the youngest in the family, came along two years later in 1872.

It is nice to think of all those generations who came before me, nursing their babies. Nursing skipped a generation in my family in the 1950s when my mom tried to breastfeed and got no support. I am glad La Leche League was there for me in the 1980s and I hope many more generations of my family will go on happily nursing their babies.

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