Recently we have done some digging through Andrew Wylie’s financial records. This collection is a popular one with classes who have been visiting the house recently. Financial records can tell us a lot about the past and are an essential tool for any archivist, historian or enthusiast of the past.
There are so many questions we can ask just from this simple list of purchases in 1835. Why was the Wylie Family buying so much sugar? Surely 46 lbs. of sugar was not necessary for one purchase? Did the family have an insatiable sugar tooth? Was there to be a party where they needed to bake tens of cakes? We might never know exactly why they needed that much sugar, but by investigating practices of the time we can get a better idea. In the 1830s there was no electricity in the house and there was no refrigeration. How would they have kept their food from rotting without keeping it refrigerated? To keep food from going bad, during this time period, the popular practice was “sugaring”. Many people assume that “canning” was the main preservation technique of food throughout the nineteenth century but in fact it did not come along until the end of the nineteenth century as an everyday household practice. Sugaring refers to dehydrating foods and then packing them with sugar. The same can be done using salt. Therefore maybe the Wylie’s were buying so much sugar so that they could make their produce and meats last from harvest time through the winter.
Just by looking at this receipt you might be able to figure out exactly where it came from. Take a look at this one below from 1842!
Although the specific vendor is not specified, except for his name, the items bought indicate that John Height might have been grocer, or maybe he was a local farmer who helped keep the family supplied with food when needed.
But food was not the only thing that Wylie’s were buying. The receipts come in all shapes and lengths, and show a very diverse purchase record. With so many daughters, the family seemed to buy lots of fabric and trimming to keep the girls well clothed while they lived in their parents’ home. The family bought calicos, linens, thread and other materials needed to sew their own clothes.
As a teaching tool, these receipts are hard for some people to read, so we also have them transcribed and printed for easy perusal. Going through these records has been fascinating for this amateur historian and (hopefully!) future archivist. These purchases can tell us so much about what was happening with the family in a given month or year. Maybe it was a lean year for dairy and they needed to buy extra butter from an outside source. Maybe the reason they did not often buy groceries is because the house was built on farmland in which the family tended. These receipts and bills are like puzzle pieces of the past, we put them together to reveal what was going on with the Wylie’s when they lived in the house.
Although the transcriptions cannot be found online the original documents have been scanned and uploaded to the Indiana University Archives Online site. For those who are interested in delving into the person papers of Indiana University’s first president, visit this link to connect with the Wylie Family history from the comfort of your own home.
Caroline Voisine, Graduate Assistant