Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Family history and books that relate

One of the reasons I enjoy family history so much is that it lets me combine two of my longtime loves, reading and history. I haven't read very much in the last 30 years or so while I was studying insurance, and while I was in my cross stitch phase, and then while I was so entranced with learning about my very, very extended family (and my husband's) that I could hardly tear myself away from my genealogy programs and Google.  Now that I'm retired, I am returning to reading, particularly history, and finding that it all connects! 

Family history is simply history on a micro-level. For instance, obviously we are not descendents of George Washington, but his life is worth reading from a family standpoint because some of our ancestors served with, or at least had the chance to see, George Washington during the Revolutionary War. Reading his life helps give insights into the lives of our ancestors who lived in Virginia at the same time as the Washingtons,  as well as the lives of our ancestors who were in the Revolutionary War. 

Here is some of what I've been reading in the last month or so, since I retired: 

The French and Indian War by Walter J Bornerman. Since I knew absolutely nothing about this except that Richard Falley, an Allen ancestor, was captured in it, I learned much more than I can tell you about this time period. I don't know if this is a classic, or if it's one of many books about this time period, but one has to start somewhere. Naturally, I am now more attuned to thinking of which of our ancestors would likely have fought in this war, and how I can find records for them.

Mary, Queen of France, the story of the Youngest Sister of Henry VIII by Jean Plaidy:  I was fascinated by this book, while realizing at the same time that it wasn't as deeply researched as, say, Alison Weir or Elizabeth Chadwick's books are.  (Jean Plaidy/Philippa Carr/Victoria Holt wrote 90 books, after all.)  On the positive side, it was an absolute delight to read about the women (and men) hanging out there on our family tree, and to see how this author portrayed them. 

Washington, A Life by Ron Chernow:  There is a line between George Washington the man and George Washington the General and President, but the book does a good job of showing us both sides of the man, and how and why he behaved in ways that sometimes puzzle us, 200 plus years later.  His world was likely not the world of many of our ancestors, but our ancestors owned land that he surveyed, and our ancestors fought where he fought.  It was an interesting read.

These books were my early morning/bedtime reads, on my Kindle. Currently on my Kindle I'm reading The Fifties by David Halberstam. It is the story of my parent's lives, and my in-laws.  I thought it would make me a little more nostalgic than it has, but instead it's pulling pieces together for me to show how my innocent childhood (we didn't even have a television set until late in 1957, which may not have been all bad) was so different from what was actually happening in the world. 

I spend an hour or sometimes two in the afternoon, reading "real" books. I've read A Stupendous Effort, by Jack K Overmyer, which tells the story of the 87th Indiana in the Civil War. My great grandfather George R Allen was in that unit until his early discharge, so I felt like I was meeting some of his friends and neighbors while I was reading that book.

I just recently finished Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul, by John M Barry.  Roger Williams is an ancestor on the Holbrook line, and I am honored to be one of his descendents.  This book told more than I knew about his life in England before coming to America, but there isn't much biographical material from then on, there being little mention of his wife and almost none of his children.  However, the book tells about his intellectual and spiritual development as the Puritan became the Baptist became the Seeker, and the stories that intertwine with what was happening in England are fascinating. 

I also read 11/22/63, which is a novel by Stephen King. I have never read any of his work before, but this one was intriguing.  It involves time travel and an attempt to change history by preventing the assassination of President John Kennedy.  I enjoyed the sense of being back in the late 1950s and early 1960s and the very careful descriptions of music, smells, food, cars, and education, which all seemed correct. 

Currently I'm reading The Guns at Last Light, by Rick Atkinson.  I had earlier read The Day of Battle, by the same author, in order to learn about my uncle Ray Holbrook's experience leading up to his death in Italy in 1944. I'm hoping this book will tell about my father and my father in law's experiences as they landed in the weeks following D Day, and onward. Neither man talked a lot about the war so it's going to take some digging to learn their stories. 

I still have a bureau drawer full of books to read (and two more coming in the mail) and maybe a dozen books on my Kindle. I know I'll learn something from each of them, and I'm looking forward to each and every read.