Required reading: Essential resources for every researcher.
We tend to forget that in times of war, germs—not guns—can sometimes be the troops’ biggest enemy. In Pox Americana: The Great Smallpox Epidemic of 1775-82 (Hill and Wang), Elizabeth A. Fenn shows the connection between the American Revolution and the toll smallpox took on the soldiers. The disease spread among soldiers in closed-in quarters, then to the civilians they came into contact with. The outbreak killed about 125,000 people, including many black soldiers—who’d been offered their freedom for siding with the British—and American Indians. Using diary excerpts, letters, presidential papers, and church and burial records, Fenn documents and details a different side of the Revolutionary War.
Hot off the press: New books to heat up your family history search.
1. Here’s a unique twist to writing family history: In Nancy Huston’s novel Fault Lines (Black Cat), four different six-year-olds from four generations of the same tortured family narrate the story, which spans from present-day California to World War II-era Germany. The story culminates with a “devastating truth about the family’s origins.”
2. In The Wettest County in the World (Simon & Schuster), Matt Bondurant bases his fictional characters and their story on the lives of his grandfather and two granduncles. The moonshiners’ tale meshes brotherhood, greed and murder in Franklin County, Va., during Prohibition and the years after.
3. Michael Williams, Richard Cahan and Nicholas Osborn spent 10 years rummaging through garage sales, antique stores and Web sites to create Who We Were: A Snapshot History of America (CityFiles Press). The result is a portrait of real Americans by amateur photographers depicting a nation of racy, quirky and fun-loving people. Maybe one of them is your missing ancestor.
Pros’ picks: Genealogy gurus share their reading recommendations.
Book: An American Family 1575-1945: A History of the United States of America Viewed Through the Eyes of One Family by James Edmond Carbine and Marianne Lemly Carbine (Gateway Press, $35)
Recommended by: Sonia Schoenfield, reference librarian at Cook Memorial Public Library District in Libertyville, Ill., and 10-year genealogy veteran
Summary: Using a narrative style rather than a “bare bones” genealogical approach, the book tells the story of the authors’ ancestors, from the Pilgrims to their WWII parents.
Likes and dislikes: I liked the early chapters, especially the unimaginably courageous story of Penelope Van Princs Stout: She survived a brutal attack by Indians (in which her husband died), lived to marry again and had 10 children. She’s a truly remarkable pioneer woman. The authors really helped me understand the Pilgrim and Puritan mindset. I only wish there had been maps.
Behind the scenes: I read it to write a review for the Illinois State Genealogical Society’s quarterly.
Lasting impressions: An American Family is a great example of how to write your family history in the context of the times in which your ancestors lived. It has made me more aware of the “big picture” my relatives lived in.
Best bonus: Family historians with a sensitivity to the way our ancestors’ lives meshed with history will enjoy the structure and approach of this book.
From the September 2009 Family Tree Magazine