Thursday, May 3, 2012

Historical Books - Abundant Genealogy Week 18

I believe that both non-fiction and fiction books can contribute to our family history efforts. Either group, if well-researched, can take us to a time and place where an ancestor lived and add meat to the bare bones of names, dates, and places. They can help give us an understanding of the environment in which our ancestors lived and possibly help us understand some of the choices our ancestors made.

Three of my all-time favorite historical fiction books are a series written by Conrad Richter: The Trees; The Fields; and The Town. They were republished as The Awakening Land and made into a movie (which I haven't seen.)

The series begins in the late 1700s when young Sayward (pronounced Saird) Luckett and her family move to Southeast Ohio to settle amongst the trees in the old-growth forest. As the books follow Sayward's growth from childhood, through marriage, motherhood, and into old age, they also follow one area of Ohio's growth from woodland to civilization. There's plenty of action to hold the interest of and entertain any reader who enjoys history. As for Sayward, she has a quiet, sensible, down-to-earth wisdom about her and I felt a pleasure in getting to know her.

I don't know how much research Richter did before writing these books but his descriptions of early Ohio correspond to the descriptions of early settlers of Jefferson County, Ohio. The Town was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1951.

Victorian America: Transformations in Everyday Life, 1876-1915, by Thomas J. Schlereth, is a non-fiction work that is part of "The Everyday Life in America" series. Chapter subjects include moving, working, housing, consuming, communicating, playing, striving, and living and dying. There are end notes but no bibliography. It includes an expansive index. Each chapter is subdivided into more defined categories. For instance, the chapter on communicating includes letter writing and mail systems; postcards and greeting cards; newspapers and national magazines; and electronic media, including telegraphs, telephones, phonograph, and audio culture. The chapter on playing includes family fun (home games--parlor, porch, and place); picnics and sociables; public entertainments (the neighborhood saloon, the soda fountain, the vaudeville house, the country fair, etc.). Sections of photographs are interspersed throughout the chapters. I borrowed the book to research a specific topic but found myself drawn into the book as an interesting read.

Books in "The Everyday Life in America" series:
The Reshaping of Everyday Life, 1790-1840 by Jack Larkin
The Expansion of Everyday Life, 1860-1976 by Daniel E. Sutherland
The Uncertainty of Everyday Life, 1915-1945 by Harvey Green

Other books that add to my understanding of the time periods in which my ancestors lived include:
  • Women’s Diaries of the Westward Journey by Lillian Schlissel
  • Letters of a Woman Homesteader by Elinore Pruitt Stewart
  • A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812 by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
  • Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression by Mildred Armstrong Kalish
I also recommend books, both fiction and non-fiction, that were written during the time period of an ancestor in the location where the ancestor lived. The story in a fiction will not match that of your ancestor but the interactions, customs, and setting may give you an idea of what the ancestor's life might have been like.

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This post was written to participate in Amy Coffin's 52 Weeks of Abundant Genealogy which is hosted on Geneabloggers. The theme will change weekly and may be posted any day of the week. I invite you to participate if you'd like.

This week's theme was Historical Books. This week we’re going to shine the spotlight on other historical books that benefit the genealogy field. Do you have a favorite book that falls in this category? What makes this book special to you? How can other genealogists benefit from its content?

This challenge runs from Sunday, April 29, 2012 through Saturday, May 5, 2012.

1 comment:

  1. I totally agree that both fiction and non-fiction can help us place our families in context in history...great post!


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