Writers of historical fiction are constantly living on two timelines, or more. We see the world we're in now, but we are alive to the ways in which this world is woven on top of so many other, older worlds.
I love finding quirky museums of local history when we travel, because those museums help illuminate those older designs, the older ways of living that undergird our present day. When our family had a weekend in the Shenandoah Valley last month, of course I dragged the kids (literally) into the Shenandoah Valley Cultural Heritage Museum in Edinburg.
There's not a narrative at the museum so much as an immersion. They have collected artifacts from the daily lives of people all around the area and put them on display, so folks today can learn how people lived over one hundred years ago. There's a heavy bias toward middle and upper-middle class white families, it seems, so don't take this as the whole story. (And certainly, you should visit it to get your own impressions! Mine were made with one screaming child in the other arm.)
Isn't it neat to think about how women entertained themselves when there was no television to watch at night? (They made have made beaded purses, like the below.) Or...
... isn't it intriguing how independent women entrepreneurs ran their businesses? The museum had a small tribute to a Ms. Edith Miller, born in 1872, who operated her own millinery shop. She traveled twice a year to Baltimore to purchase materials for her hats and to learn new techniques. That must have been quite a journey then.
Maybe Edith took those trips on the passenger train, which arrived in that area in 1859. Or maybe she took a buggy, like the below. And our enterprising milliner could have worn dresses and sported fashionable whips like the second photo below.
She might have used these trappings to decorate her hats and clothes.
Then, there's the simple challenge of communication. How did people get their correspondence? Rural families didn't get mail delivered until 1904.
And finally, before I go, I'm just going to throw this one in here. In case anyone is writing a story where the main character has to make a nail.
You can thank me later.