November 2009 Book Report

By Sharon DeBartolo Carmack Premium

Required Reading
Do you have family stories of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair? You won’t want to miss The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Eric Larson (Vintage Books). Larson not only amasses an incredible amount of source material on the fair, he also tells a parallel story of a cunning serial killer who used the event to lure victims into a “castle of horrors.” Larson’s page-turner is a model for weaving together bits and pieces of an elusive person’s life. The author crafts the scenes with the skill and detail of a novelist, and though he admits that no one other than the killer witnessed the murders, he offers the sources he used to construct the probable scenarios in his end notes.
Hot Off the Press
Nearly everyone has heard tales of the Donner Party, who got trapped in the snows of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in 1846-1847. Mingling memoir and history, Gabrielle Burton tells the story of George Donner’s wife in Searching for Tamsen Donner (University of Nebraska Press), retracing Tamsen’s life from her birthplace in Massachusetts through the Midwest and along the Oregon Trail.

Have a wee bit of Irish in you? Catherine Nash examines what it means to be Of Irish Descent: Origin Stories,

Genealogy, and the Politics of Belonging (Syracuse University Press). Genealogists will find the chapters Irish Roots and Relatives and Irish DNA particularly relevant in this fascinating study of how ethnic origins are defined for the Irish in America, in Northern Ireland and in Ireland itself.
Every family has secrets. Steve Luxenberg’s late mother claimed she was an only child, but he discovered Mom had a sister who was committed to a mental hospital at age 21. Annie’s Ghosts: A Journey into a Family Secret (Hyperion) explores the personal motives and cultural forces influencing his mother’s decision to create and harbor the secret, as well as the search for the aunt he never knew.
Pro’s Picks
From Clan to Regiment: Six Hundred Years in the Hebrides, 1400-2000 by Nicholas Maclean-Bristol (Pen and Sword Books), recommended by Brenda Dougall Merriman, a certified genealogist and author of Genealogy in Ontario: Searching the Records (Ontario [Canada] Genealogical Society)

  • Book summary: From Clan to Regiment is more than a military history. The book follows the fortunes and follies of the Maclean lairds of the Isle of Coll, whose Scottish estates included, at times, part of mainland Argyllshire and the islands of Tiree, Mull, Rum and Muck. The book has charts, photographs and an extensive source list.
  • Likes and dislikes: The author has identified hundreds of “ordinary” people by patronymics and their locations through the examination of parish registers, kirk sessions, ancient Gaelic manuscripts, muster rolls, ships’ logs, British Army and East India Company records and many other archival sources.
  • Behind the scenes: I was searching the Internet for previous works by Maclean-Bristol and found this one. The result is an amazing range of original sources.
  • Lasting impressions: It gave me so many leads to sources, I may never have time to hunt them all down.
  • Best bonus: This book makes me aware of the limits of long-distance research, despite increasing Internet assistance. After years of working for research clients, it’s a switch to become a properly communicating client myself.
From the November 2009 Family Tree Magazine