The Question: See if YOU can solve this reference mystery

I was in a bookstore in the ’80s and started reading a book about Puritans feeding their babies ale but now I can’t remember the title. Can you help me find the book?

bookquestionThis is the kind of question we live for at AAS: the test that can make or break you as a professional. Succeed and you will glow with a satisfaction almost akin to discovering gold at the end of a treasure hunt. Fail and it will haunt you for years to come. You may find yourself wandering the aisles of bookshops and libraries muttering about “Puritans,” “babies,” and “ale,” which believe you me will attract some strange sideways glances from the other patrons.

The Rules:
How would you discover the answer to this question? We hope you will share with us your research strategies, tips for searching online resources like Google, and the results you come up with. There is a right answer and I will post it next week, hopefully after we’ve heard some of your suggestions. Basically, this post is an exercise in crowd-sourcing and if it works we may have to begin outsourcing some of our toughest questions to you all. In fact, I already have one lined up which I wasn’t able to figure out. Can a group solve a mystery like this faster than an individual? Let’s find out…

The Clues:
1. The title was something like “How We Lived” or “How Americans Lived.”

2. It was a social history of America from the Puritans into the early 20th century and included something about taverns and the common substitution of ale among Early Americans for often-contaminated water. The book described the practice of weaning Puritan babies with ale (I guess to ease the let-down).

3. The book was spotted in the ’80s (the 1980s, I should clarify) and our questioner thought it had been recently published.

The Attempts:
Like any good researcher, my first instinct was to run right to the welcoming arms of that search-engine-to-the-stars: Google. After all, why do all the work if the milk (or in this case perhaps the ale) is free? However, when an initial search of Google didn’t yield easy success, I dug my heels in for a tougher fight. No matter what they say about online access making this generation lazy and less skilled researchers, it still requires a lot of work to figure out the right questions to ask of all these amazing resources. When I was still unable to find anything, I passed the buck to Diann who also struck out. Diann sent around an ALL-STAFF email asking if any other AAS staff members could help. We received some great suggestions, but none quite fit. Then my own competitiveness kicked in. I decided I was not going to let this be the one that got away so I went back in for another try and ultimately hitting the jackpot. How’s that for a paragraph full of mixed metaphors?

The Challenge:
Test yourself to see if you have the detective skills and research chops it takes to succeed. Finding the answer is all about figuring out the right questions to ask — and isn’t that a good skill to have in life? If you like your puzzles straight-up or want to find your own solution, you’ve been given exactly the same information we had. If you’d like a little extra help, click here for some hints based on how I found the book. Also, I should warn you there is at least one slight red herring in the information given, but what mystery doesn’t have at least one twist?

The Prize:
All the best intangibles: satisfaction and bragging rights.

Good luck, and I can’t wait to hear what you all come up with!

(Click here for The Answer)

15 thoughts on “The Question: See if YOU can solve this reference mystery

  1. Nicole

    I’m not an academic, and I’ve never read this book, but my best guess is The social origins of private life : a history of American families, 1600-1900 by Stephanie Coontz.

    I look forward to seeing what the answer actually is!

  2. peterme

    And in terms of finding it, Google was useless, so I used UC Berkeley’s OskiCat (catalog of all their library resources). It took some effort, but a combination of title:(lived) and subject:(social history) and subject:(united states) revealed that book title. I then googled that title, and found it was in the internet archive. I then searched the book to find that passage.

  3. Michael Sappol

    I did the obvious. I put “puritan” “babies” and “ale” into GoogleBooks, and got lots of non-response but a page or two in, this (which is probably not the book asked for):
    The landscape of William Shakespeare‎ – Page 154
    Michael Justin Davis, Simon McBride – Biography & Autobiography – 1987 – 209 pages
    “In his time good drinking-water was rare (boiling was recommended) so ale and beer were drunk by everybody, from babies to dotards. …”

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  5. Jim Puterbaugh

    I am the person who sent Elizabeth and colleagues on this search. I bought, and read, “How Our People Lived” in the 1980’s. It was on a bargain table at Powell’s Books here in Portland. But it was misplaced or loaned, and I spent years trying to find it. I had remembered the title incorrectly as “How Americans Lived”, and other librarians struggled mightily trying to make an identification. So it is not light duty finding a title and they deserve a lot of cudo’s for their success. By the way, rereading the book has been great!

  6. Pingback: The Question: Something Smells Fishy «

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