Smoky Mountain Family Historian

Friday, December 23, 2011

Why Do We Dream of a White Christmas?

The obvious reason is because Bing Crosby and company so romanticized the song that we all want one. Christmas cards and other winter scenes picture the pristine condition of the snow in a time when sleighs and carriages were popular -- not the muddy, driven-through mess that many of us have to deal with when the white stuff actually arrives in this day and age. As a Southerner though, I think there's another reason. We see so little snow that we actually want to see some. What better time than when family and friends are gathered and can stay inside and enjoy each other's company a bit more?

The weatherman has said that it will be too warm for a White Christmas this year. Instead, we're likely to have a rainy one. Am I being too bad when I hope that it's colder than the weatherman expects so that we can have that Christmas of which I dream and have only seen about three times in my entire life?  If not, I may just have to mix three songs together so that I come up with "I'll have a White Christmas if only in my dreams."

Monday, December 19, 2011

Book Review: The Runaway Quilt by Jennifer Chiaverini

Sylvia discovers a journal tucked in with some old family quilts. The journal was written by her ancestor's sister and documents the family's settlement on Elm Creek farm and involvement with the Underground Railroad. As she begins reading its pages, her friend Summer begins doing research at the county historical society. Sarah and Matt begin an archaeological excavation on the property. As a genealogist, I did not want to put this one down! I occasionally wanted Summer to seek out another source that might have held an answer, but it would have been rushing the story to prematurely reach the place that source might have led. This is my favorite in the Elm Creek Quilts series to date!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Book Review: Who Has Seen the Wind by W. O. Mitchell

This is the story of Brian O'Connal's childhood in a small town on the Saskatchewan prairie. It's full of memorable characters and even some amusing scenes in the life of a small town. I especially enjoyed Brian's first visit to the farm when he lived with his uncle for a time. The dialect sometimes made it difficult to read, but it's a book that would make a terrific read aloud for elementary aged children. The physical dimensions of the book I borrowed through interlibrary loan made it somewhat uncomfortable to read, but the illustrations made up for it.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Book Review: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

I can't believe that I waited so many years to make the acquaintance of Francie Nolan, her brother Neeley, and her parents Katie and Johnny. They reside in Brooklyn. Francie learns quickly that she is the only one in her class whose parents were born in the United States. The others were children of immigrants. Francie excels in school, especially in writing. She loves to read, although the librarian in her neighborhood library is not going to win any customer service awards. This is just a nice, clean novel about growing up in a poor family and working toward making things better for the next generation than it was for your own. I'm sure that I'll revisit this book in the future.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Book Review: The Body in the Gazebo by Katherine Hall Page

Faith's friend Pix is leaving town to attend functions associated with her child's wedding. However, her mother has been ill so she gets Faith to check in on her. Pix's mom Ursula begins to share a family secret with Faith in hopes that Faith will be able to solve it. In the meantime, $10,000 of the minister's discretionary fund has gone missing, and Faith's husband Tom is being accused by the vestry. Faith must also work to discover who has framed her husband. Both mysteries are intriguing. Because the mystery of the "body in the gazebo" is 70 years old, this installment is quite a bit different in that involves a lot of storytelling and listening.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Book Review: Murder Past Due by Miranda James

Athena College archivist Charlie Harris moved back to Athena after inheriting his aunt's home. It was his aunt's wish that he continue to board college students in the large house. The current student is Justin. He's just learned that he is the son of a famous writer who is a native of the town of Athena. No one really likes Godfrey Priest (the famed author). When he turns up dead, suspicion turns to Justin and his mother Julia. The man he's called father all these years is hospitalized at the time. Charlie really doesn't believe that Justin or Julia is responsible for the murder so he sets out to investigate. His housekeeper's daughter Kanesha is the acting chief deputy and is in charge of the investigation. There are lots of motives and lots of suspects when a womanizing man such as Godfrey Priest is the victim. As the novel progresses other motives are discovered as well. I really enjoyed this first installment in the series. Athena does not seem to be based on any of North Mississippi's towns or colleges. It's a private college in a town that appears to be small. There are some aspects that resemble Ole Miss and Oxford, but there appears to be no town square, and the town seems to be smaller than Oxford. The towns with private colleges such as Blue Mountain don't seem to be a match either. I absolutely loved Diesel, Charlie's Maine Coon cat. Diesel goes almost everywhere with Charlie -- to work, out shopping, and even to a memorial service.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

What Were They Thinking? or Were They Thinking at All?

That's the question I've been asking myself since hearing about RootsTech's decision to disallow vendors who don't meet their criteria as technology vendors. I'm more and more convinced that RootsTech is nothing more than a trade show.

I actually considered attending RootsTech this year, but I decided against it because as much as I love the way technological innovations can be of great assistance in one's genealogical projects, I'd much rather attend a conference that presents advanced topics rather than one showing the latest gadgets.

When I go to genealogical conferences, I always look forward to the exhibit hall. I usually have a list of books I plan to purchase at the conference if they are available. I sometimes have software on that list as well. I will sometimes even look for other techie items. However, I do not want to go to an exhibit hall that lacks books. I can spend hours looking at the books. I always come home with more than the ones I had planned to buy. I rarely come home with technology products that were not on my list -- the FlipPal being a notable exception. (I was, however, looking for a portable scanner at the time. I just had expected to purchase it later, and I had a different one on my wish list than the Flip Pal. The rave reviews I was hearing at the conference in the exhibit hall sent me over to their booth to take a look, and I came away convinced it was the one for me.)

The truth is . . . I just can't justify most technology purchases. I can't afford to purchase all of those products. When I make a technology purchase, I have to see a clear need for it and know that I will get my money's worth from the product before it becomes obsolete. There are very few products that actually meet that criteria.

As far as online databases, I'm already subscribing to as many as my current budget will allow. These are the essential ones that I use on a regular basis. Sure, I'd love to have all of them, but the truth is, I probably would not get my money's worth out of most of the other databases. I have to pick and choose wisely. Most of the vendors of these databases display at both the NGS and FGS conferences. I'm able to take a look at them and see what new developments have arisen in the exhibit hall, as I'm browsing the books and visiting with friends.

If I were to go to a conference such as RootsTech that had technology vendors only, I'd be tempted to skip the exhibit hall completely. You can call me a Luddite . . . but I think most of my colleagues at work would disagree with you. I'm one of the techiest people on campus and have taught college-level Computer Information Systems courses. I still love my books. I also love my Kindle, but I still love the ones on paper in soft and hardcover bindings!

By the way, I wonder if RootsTech has considered that most of those books were written and published on computers using software applications of various kinds? I guess not.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Book Review: The Ninth Daughter by Barbara Hamilton

I have mixed feelings when it comes to making historical figures stars of serial fiction. On the one hand, I love the visit with that time period in a more readable fashion. On the other, I have a problem when it comes to placing the historical figure in situations in which they probably never were. Such is the case with this first installment in a series of mysteries featuring Abigail Adams, wife of later-to-be president John Adams. In this installment, one woman is dead and another is missing. It appears that a member of the Sons of Liberty, perhaps even her husband, may be responsible or have been framed. She is determined to find the real person before the English officials arrest her husband. I loved the references to historical persons. I am familiar enough with Boston and its streets and neighborhoods to have visualized and placed the geographic references. What I couldn't quite believe were the activities in which Abigail Adams engaged in the novel for a woman in that time period. In spite of my problem with the believability of the novel, it was an enjoyable read.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Book Review: A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny

Clara finally has a solo art show at a prominent museum in Montreal. There is a party back in Three Pines after the opening. The next morning the body of a childhood friend (and later enemy) of Clara is found in Clara's garden. The victim was an artist who had been a recovering alcoholic. The beauty of this novel is that it is a novel of contrasts, with the light and dark metaphor playing prominently into it. Her characters are realistic and flawed. Gamache allows Agent Lacoste to take the lead in this investigation to see if she's ready for a likely upcoming promotion. The officers, especially Jean-Guy, are still dealing with the psychological aftermath of the ordeal in the last novel (Bury Your Dead). There are hints of what will come in future installments. Do I really have to wait a year for the next one? The only consolation is that with Penny, it is worth the wait. [Review written in September; it won't really be quite a full year's wait now!]

Monday, December 05, 2011

Book Review: Christian Apologetics by Douglas R. Groothuis

This is one of the best works on apologetics that I've ever encountered. The author approaches the subject from a philosophical perspective and uses arguments that show how to reason with persons of different religious persuasion whether they believe in a major religion, are atheist/agnostic, or are pluralists (as so many are today). He shows how popular culture has influenced some misconceptions that are frequently encountered as well. He avoids the use of jargon. When he does use a term that might be considered jargon, he explains it very simply and uses analogies/illustrations so that the concept is very understandable. There is also a glossary of some terms. The author's bibliography and footnotes demonstrate his mastery of the subject. The index is great. It is a HUGE book, but it's very readable. Highly recommended.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

An Immigrant Ancestor Found

All branches of my own family have been in the United States (or the colonies that became the United States) since the 18th century (with some here as early as the late 1620s/early 1630s). I enjoy the adventures that I've had helping others with their more recent immigrants. This week one of my colleagues at the library decided to take advantage of the access to free World War II records on Ancestry.com during her lunch break. She searched for her great grandfather, but she did not find him. She decided to see what FamilySearch had to offer. She came across an interesting record there that was in the right location, but the first name did not match what she had always been told. However, when she looked at that World War II draft registration, one thing became very clear. It was probably her ancestor. The birth year on the card did not match, but there was an age recorded which matched what her ancestor would have been (rather than the 10 years later that the birth year would have indicated). The contact person was her great grandmother. It was looking more and more like she had a match, but there was one thing that greatly puzzled her. His place of birth was Austria rather than Poland as everyone in the family believed. She came back to my office quite excited and full of questions. Armed with her new name, I quickly searched the passenger lists and found this person on ships for both 1902 and 1910. I also found a known brother's arrival in 1903 with her great grandfather listed as a contact. We also located photos for most of the ships. The passenger arrival records also cleared up the mystery. Her great grandfather was born in Austria; however, his nationality was listed as Polish, and the town in which he'd been living in Poland was given. (Incidentally, she'd had a family tradition of a town, but the spelling was off slightly and might have led her to a different place.) Now, armed with the correct name of the town, she should be able to locate additional records. She also knows that she'll have to check Austrian records. She now knows his real name. By the way, her great grandmother's name was Victoria, so what do you think he was known by in America? Albert, of course!

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Book Review: A Crafty Killing by Lorraine Bartlett

Ezra Hilton, owner of a Artisans Alley, is found dead. Katie Bonner, widow of Ezra's former 10% partner, becomes executor and majority owner in the business upon his death. She'd had little to do with the business up to that point, but hated her job with an overbearing boss. She quits and decides to run the shop which is about to go under. She also doesn't think the detective is doing all he can to resolve the crime so she sets out to investigate on her own, gathering as much information as she can about the artisans. With Katie's background in marketing, we can begin to see hope for survival of the struggling business as she takes over operations. I found myself liking most of the cast of characters that will likely be repeats (although I must confess that there might be one or two that I wouldn't mind seeing charged with a future crime). I had the feeling that this book is mostly a set-up and introduction for the rest of the series. There's really very little action, and I feel we didn't get to know the detective quite as well as we should, although there were some revelations near the end about him. She did manage to keep me guessing who the perpetrator was throughout the novel although I had already guessed some aspects of the solution. Not a bad start for this series! I look forward to reading more about Katie and seeing how the gallery and her relationships with some of the men progress during the course of the next installment.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Book Review: Windflower by Gabrielle Roy

This is the story of an Eskimo woman living in northern Quebec's Nunavit region, specifically in Fort Chimo along the Koksoak River, who becomes pregnant by an American serviceman. She did not know the soldier's name because it was a difficult name for her. She refused to name the soldier, even though she recognized him, because she realized he would be disciplined for his conduct. The story is also about her son Jimmy's growth and coming of age. This is a beautiful story with rich language that paints a picture of the harsh life in the Arctic regions of Quebec. The attitudes of the people in that area along with the clashes in cultures between the white man and the natives is also depicted. The novel does a good job of showing the role of religion and the clergy in the area. This is a book that deserves a much wider audience.