1. Curiosity over an old family legend drove Amin Maalouf to delve into the life of his paternal grandfather and his Lebanese family history. Using personal, political, historical and literary insight, Origins: A Memoir (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) tells the story of Maalouf’s genealogical quest.
2. Often called the “Ellis Island of the West,” Angel Island ushered in an estimated 200,000 immigrants between 1910 and 1940. The newcomers who arrived there—largely Chinese, Japanese, Koreans and Indians—weren’t greeted with open arms. Immigration at the Golden Gate: Passenger Ships, Exclusion, and Angel Island by Robert Eric Barde (Praeger Publishers) gives a rich social history for those tracing Asian ancestors, and explains how Angel Island facilitated the immigrants’ exclusion from American society.
3. In the midst of the Depression, the Works Progress Administration asked out-of-work writers and others to record how America ate. America Eats! On the Road with the WPA—The Fish Fries, Box Supper Socials, and Chitlin Feasts that Define Real American Food by Pat Willard (Bloomsbury) isn’t a cookbook, although it does include recipes. Instead, it recounts local events where food was the centerpiece—and might shed light on culinary traditions in your own family.
Pro’s Picks: Genealogy gurus share their reading recommendations
Book: The Fabulous History of the Dismal Swamp Company: A Story of George Washington’s Times
by Charles Royster (Vintage)
Recommended by: Anita A. Lustenberger, a certified genealogist and former trustee of the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society and the New England Historic Genealogical Society
Book summary: The Fabulous History of the Dismal Swamp Company is about the wheeler-dealer culture of Virginians (and other Americans) in land speculation. It also shows the ventures they used to exploit the land for profit. Not much has changed: We still have land speculation (the mortgage crisis), dishonest bookkeeping (Enron) and people living on credit (our huge credit card balances).
Likes and dislikes: Sometimes the book got tedious—it’s 662 pages, of which 170 are sources and notes. The book also has an overwhelming cast: scores of families, with extensive intermarriage and steprelatives. The author writes well, but jumps around so much that I didn’t always know whom a pronoun referred to.
Behind the scenes: I was given this book by a downsizing second cousin (some of our collateral relatives are in the book).
Lasting impressions: It provided an excellent sense of what made the upper classes tick. It’s meticulously researched and had references to some sources that were new to me.
Best bonus: It helped me understand the economic goings-on and stresses some of my ancestors felt.
From the March 2009 Family Tree Magazine