Wednesday, July 2, 2014

My Grandparents' World War II Ration Books

I have started the long task of sorting through the three large bins of family materials left to me by my grandmother, LaVerne Rutherfurd Smith, after her death in 2012.  They're filled with genealogical files, old photos and newspaper clippings.  I've seen a lot of these items in the past.  My grandmother and I used to spend afternoons together going through photograph albums and talking about genealogy, and she showed me much of her family history collection during those meetings.  However, as I work my way through the contents of these bins, I'm turning up little treasures that are completely new to me.

Today, I discovered a photo of my great-grandparents, George Rutherfurd and Julia Barrett, that I'd never seen.  There's a picture of the interior of my great-grandmother Nellie Barrett's home circa the 1920s and a letter that my grandad, Glenn Murray Smith, wrote to my grandmother in 1933, when they were both teenagers.  It's so wonderful to come upon all these new things.  I only wish I could ask my grandmother for more details about each of them.

One of the newly discovered items that has intrigued me the most is a set of ration booklets from 1943.  There are three of them, one each for my grandmother, grandfather and their eldest child, Glenn Thomas "Tom" Smith.  These three booklets fit into a holder, which my grandmother had reinforced with tape along the edges.  All three booklets contain a number of unused stamps.

The booklets state that the family was living at 210 McKinley Avenue in Pomona, California.  This is new information for me.  My grandparents were both born and raised in Los Angeles, and I knew they spent some of the war years in Forestville, in Sonoma County, and in upstate New York, while my grandfather attended various military training schools.  I did not know that they'd ever been in Pomona.  Pomona is about a 30-minute drive east of San Marino, where my grandparents settled after the war.

My uncle Tom is listed as being 9 months old on the ration books.  He was born on September 22, 1942.  That would date the ration books to June of 1943.  This was before their move to Forestville.

During the war years, there were shortages of a number of items, including food and gasoline.  A system of rationing these goods was enacted across America.

As explained by The National WWII Museum's website:

Every American was issued a series of ration books during the war.  The ration books contained removable stamps good for certain rationed items, like sugar, meat, cooking oil, and canned goods.  A person could not buy a rationed item without also giving the grocer the right ration stamp.  Once a person’s ration stamps were used up for a month, she couldn’t buy any more of that type of food.

Instructions for using the ration stamps are listed on the back of each booklet.  Also, the interior of each holder contains a quote from President Roosevelt and a list of tips to make ration coupons go further.

"We cannot have the things we want if our boys over there are to have what they need."  
-President Roosevelt

  • Budget your points as you do your money.
  • Plan your meals in advance.
  • Total your points at home to save time -- trouble and service at the store.
  • When stamps are used up -- you cannot buy rationed goods until the next ration period.
  • Substitute non-rationed fresh fruits and vegetables when possible to conserve stamps.
  • Keep a record of point changes -- point values change on seasonal foods.
  • Use higher point stamps first -- it will simplify buying during closing days of period.
  • Shop during the early part of the week and avoid confusion.

It's interesting to think about my grandmother, a young mother during the war, planning her meals around rationed items. What sort of compromises did she have to make?

I notice that someone else, perhaps the issuing authority, has written the names of the three family members on each of their ration books.  My grandmother wrote all the identifying information below that.  I recognize her handwriting.  She has signed her own ration book and that of my uncle Tom.  My grandfather did not sign his.

This is such a little piece of history, and I'm glad I've found it and can preserve it.


  1. What a lovely find! You are blessed to have a collection of family artifacts.

    My great grandmother also had a collection of photographs, newspaper clippings, cards and letters. I am so grateful she kept all of these items. Many were hidden gems that provided additional details about the family.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Michelle! Yes, these old artifacts are wonderful and I'm so glad we have them. They provide such a glimpse into life at an earlier time. I'm still discovering more interesting things as I sort through these bins.

    2. Doesn't it sort of feel like Christmas when you go through them? That is how I feel when I go through my boxes. Each time I notice something I didn't pick up on the previous time!

  2. What a wonderful thing for your grandmother to keep. I imagine most people threw them away in relief when it was all over.

    1. Hi, Wendy! Yes, I imagine these were the last things most people wanted to keep. I was surprised but delighted to find them among my Grandma's belongings. Such a treasure for later generations!

  3. Erin,

    These ration books are so interesting! They are wonderful glimpses into the past.

    I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today's Fab Finds post at

    Have a wonderful weekend!