Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Middling Folk by Linda Matthews

In Middling Folk: Three Seas, Three Centuries, One Scots-Irish Family, Linda Matthews traces the story of her family, the Hammills, from Washington state all the way back to 17th century Scotland.

Booklist called it "simply splendid".

LibraryThing thought that I would love it.

And I'm here to say . . . . meh. It was OK.

If you're a Hammill, or have ancestors who were Scots-Irish, or who lived in colonial Maryland/ Civil War Virginia/ pioneer-era Washington, it will be fascinating. If you don't, then it's like being cornered at a party by someone who wants to tell you their family history in excruciating detail.

Having been involuntarily told many people's genealogies before, I was aware of the risk, but I wanted to learn more about genealogy. By that I mean the kind of searching through archives that Matthews did, not the plug-your-grandmother's-name-into-Ancestry kind that I resort to. I found out mostly that to get past the 20th century, you need property-owning ancestors from counties whose records have been preserved, or literate ones who wrote to people whose families kept the letters in archives. You need wills, deeds, claims, property tax records.

I'm not done with my genealogy-book quest yet. I'm thinking about reading Shaking the Family Tree: Blue Bloods, Black Sheep, and Other Obsessions of an Accidental Genealogist by Buzzy Jackson, just for the entertainment value - one of the chapters is called "Hitting the Road to Alabama with Cousin Mooner" - or Faces of America: How 12 Extraordinary People Discovered Their Pasts by Henry Gates (which talks about DNA testing - maybe you don't have to be related to the upright citizens of the world to learn your history!).

And anyway, LibraryThing says that I will like them.

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