This blog is about the story of my family here in America. We arrived in the 1630s as Puritans, and became the common folk of the New World.

Privacy in the days of our ancestors

If you *don't know nothin' 'bout history*, you may think that we live in an age where information about us is easy to find. You know - with computers and all that. Actually the exact opposite is true. In the twenty-first century, private information about ourselves is more closely guarded than it has ever been before.

In order to write a check as little as thirty years ago, your home address and home telephone number had to be printed on the check. Also your name, telephone number, and home address were printed in a book that was freely distributed to everyone, the phone book. My cell phone number isn't listed in a phone book! One hundred years ago, the information in the phone book even included your occupation.

A generation ago, the grades you earned for from college classes, which are have long been considered a very private piece of information, were posted on public boards on campus, along with your social security number. People regularly had their names written on their mailboxes, even large decorative first letters of their last names decorating their homes. Newspapers published very private information about families under a heading such as *goings on about town*, like whether people were going out of town for the summer, and it was considered light-hearted.

Before the invention of email, every letter that someone sent revealed their name and home address not only to the sender but to everyone who handled that letter along the way. It's still true if you are obliged to use regular mail today. By the way, you can avoid that today with a P.O. box, which has long been available but wasn't established to protect identity, but had to be used by people who couldn't get home delivery of mail.

Protecting our privacy is a good thing, and just because our ancestors didn't have it doesn't mean that they didn't need it. Like seat belts in cars, it's just something that hadn't been invented yet.
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