I currently have three cats, but over my life, my family has shared space with dogs, guinea pigs, a rabbit and a parakeet named Dickie. My mother-in-law was always partial to dogs as her life was saved by her pet as a child, when her mutt defended her from a rabid dog in the 1930s. Her pet didn’t survive, of course, but her appreciation and affection spread to many dogs throughout her life.
Many of our ancestors owned pets and/or work animals. Most pets had a job to do, just as most children started chores at an early age. One often could not tell much difference between hunting or herd dogs and the family pet. Cats were expected to keep the population of vermin down at home, barn or business as well as providing affection and companionship. And a horse might work in the mornings, then carry a child to a swimming pond in the afternoon.
Horses, like cattle or sheep, were often marked in some fashion to denote ownership. Dogs and later cats, were often registered and licensed. The licensing was often meant to control the animal population running loose through the community, and later also enforced regular rabies shots.
The Genealogy Center has various sources to help you research what animals your ancestors may have owned, starting with the Federal Agricultural Census Schedules for a number of states, and books of earmarks, brands, and dog licenses, including Register of Losses of Stock and Fowls Killed or Maimed by Dogs [Jackson Township, Allen County, Indiana] and Claude Wemple’s Memories of a Rancher From the Land of the Never Sweats: Milford, Lassen County, California: Neighbors, Family, Horses, Cattle, Dogs, and Reactions, 1899 to 1952. There are dog license lists in microfilmed tax records, including the 1815-1816 Tax List for East Bethlehem Township, Washington County, Pennsylvania, on Roll 11. And there are many periodical articles listed in the Periodical Source Index concerning horses, cattle, cats, dogs and monkeys.
And so we come back to modern times and your research. As you scan old photos, identifying all of the people and places, remember to identify the family pets and animals, and ask for stories concerning family pets as you do oral interviews. These tales, and tails, will make a wonderful addition to your family history.