Saturday, January 28, 2012

Book Review: Proprietary Records of South Carolina

Bates, Susan Baldwin and Leland, Harriott Cheves, eds. Proprietary Records of South Carolina. 3 vols. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2005-2007.

Did you have ancestors in South Carolina before the end of the 17th century? If so, History Press has a three-volume work that is absolutely essential for researching the earliest period of the province that eventually became the eighth state admitted to the United States. Susan Baldwin Bates and Harriott Cheves Leland have painstakingly abstracted some of earliest land and estate records of the state.

Volume one focuses on Abstracts of the Records of the Secretary of the Province, 1675-1695. The introduction provides important information about the record group as well as the editorial process. The largest portion of the book contains abstracts. The records contain land claims, estate administrations, bonds, releases, estate inventories, wills, marriages, and other assorted items of tremendous genealogical and historical value. There is a small section of color plates illustrating some of the records, including a couple of maps. The appendices include a list of provincial secretaries and a list of settlers taken from a map, There is a glossary, a list of titles used during the proprietary period, a bibliography, and an index of places and people.

Volume two contains Abstracts of the Records of the Register of the Province, 1675-1696.  The introduction provides information about the office of the register, the land grant process, and headrights in addition to the record group itself. The majority of the book contains the records themselves. There are land grants, deeds, business records, indentures, receipts, wills, quit rents, and other miscellaneous items among the records. There are a few color plates illustrating the records and showing some of the maps in the record group. The appendices contain a listing of those serving as provincial registers and lists of settlers from two maps.There is a bibliography and an index of places and people.

Volume three contains Abstracts of the Records of the Surveyor General of the Province, Charles Towne, 1678-1698.  The introduction provides important information about the founding of Charleston, about the office responsible for these records,and about the records themselves. The records themselves consist chiefly of land warrants. There is a section of color plates illustrating records, plats, and maps found in the record group.The appendices consist of a list of the surveyors, histories of specific lots in Charleston, and the surveyor's notebook.There is a bibliography and an index of places and people.

These three volumes are indispensable for those researching South Carolina's early history and for those researching the lives of early settlers of South Carolina. Researchers are fortunate that a publisher such as History Press is willing to publish volumes such as these which have a more limited audience to make them widely available for historians, genealogists, and other interested persons.

Note: The three volumes were provided by the publisher for review.

Book Review: The Dead Beat

Johnson, Marilyn. The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries. New York: HarperCollins, 2006.

As a genealogist, I am quite familiar with obituaries. I use them all the time to add evidence in support of a date or relationship. The type of obituary with which I am most familiar is the one that is written based on a template which survivors complete at the funeral home as part of the package deal. This is not the type of obituary that the author of this book devours. Instead, she sings the praises of professional obituary writers employed by some newspapers who write the obituaries of famous celebrities as well as lesser known persons. Apparently this type of obituary has a somewhat cult-like following. The writers themselves know who is old and hasn't passed away yet, who is in poor health and could die at any time, etc. and begin researching so that they need only add the pertinent details of the death to their prose. Different obituary writers even employe different styles which the author has categorized. I fear that this author would include the type of obituary that I most enjoy in her classification of obituaries that read more like a telephone directory. The writer concentrates so much on her favorite type of obituary that she almost neglects to mention the reasons most people read the obituaries in their local papers--to make sure they are not among the deceased and to see if any of their friends have passed away. In spite of its weaknesses, this book does provide insight into persons obsessed with reading (and writing) obituaries of this type.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Book Review: The Diary of a Southern Lady

Jones, Katharine, ed. The Diary of a Southern Lady: Georgina Francis Barrett Devlin, April 18, 1852-February 19, 1912. North Charleston, SC: CreateSpace, 2011.

This diary details the everyday life of Georgina Francis Barrett Devlin of Yazoo City, Mississippi. The diary writer was born in England in 1825 and died in Yazoo City in 1914. The diary makes frequent mentions of persons with whom the subject associated. The editor has added footnotes to assist the modern reader in identifying some of these individuals. There is a gap between 1881 and 1895 where most of the diaries have been lost. The editor has also included extant letters and other notes that are relevant to the life of the diary's author. Based on her record of expenditures included in the diary, the individual who wrote the book was probably more affluent than most of the persons residing in the area. She does, however mention individuals who took music lessons, who rented from her, who did her laundry, etc.

As with most self-published works, there are a number of problems with the work. The one that irritated this reader the most is the numbering of the footnotes. Rather than using consecutive numbering within the chapter, the author restarted footnote numbering on each page. Another problem is in the identification of sources. At the end of the book, the editor has includes a few obituaries, but does not indicate the source for these items. Another problem is with documentation of genealogical data. The editor includes a brief genealogical outline of the family, but does not provide documentation for dates and other included information. While there is a list of persons mentioned in the diary, there really needs to be a comprehensive every name index to the book.

In spite of the problems mentioned above, if you had relatives living in the Yazoo City area during the time periods included in the diary, you will want to read this to get a feel for life in the city at that time and to see if your relatives interacted with Mrs. Devlin.

Note: This review is based on a copy of the book provided from the author for review. Copies of the book may be purchased from