Tuesday, March 27, 2012

In the Blood by Steve Robinson (Book Review)

Robinson, Steve. In the Blood. (A Genealogical Crime Mystery). [Seattle]: Amazon Digital Services, 2011.

Jefferson Tayte (J.T.), a professional genealogist, has been hired to find what happened to the Fairborne family that returned to England in 1783. He has an unrealistic deadline of one week given to him by his client considering all the problems he's encountered researching this line already. Documents are missing, having been stolen, just about everywhere he goes. When he arrives in England, his actions are not so much research-plan driven as they are clue-led based on what the person trying to thwart his plans wants him to do. There is one point where Tayte even leads someone from whom he is trying to gain information to believe that he might share the results with them, even though it is obvious that his contract with his client does not state that it can be shared. I found most of the story line to be somewhat implausible although it did make for a lot of action. The manner in which the story alternated between the past and present did not work well. I would have preferred for the story to unfold as the genealogist uncovered it. This book was quite a disappointment for me. (2 of 5 stars)

Monday, March 26, 2012

Thoughts on the Helen Hunt episode and this season's WDYTYA

I have really enjoyed NBC's broadcast of Who Do You Think You Are? I have, however, found this season a little more disappointing than the previous ones. It appears to me that the budget for the current season per episode may be much less than what it was for previous ones. There are far too many episodes that never cross the big pond.

Let's take this past week's Helen Hunt episode. The episodes were largely biographical focuses on only two of her ancestors. Both ancestors were 19th century figures. While there was a brief mention of the 18th century in at least one of the lines, it was just barely mentioned. The emphasis seemed to be on history -- the gold rush and banking in the first part and the women's suffrage movement in the second. I must confess that I found more of interest in the first part although I know many enjoyed the second portion interesting.

I am a huge fan of putting flesh on your ancestors through the type of research that was done, but I'm missing the genealogical pursuit in this season's episodes. Even when the pursuit does go back many generations, such as in the Reba McEntire episode, they are handing the trees to the celebrities without showing the steps it took to get to that generation. I would love to see an episode where they actually documented the steps they took to get to these earlier generations. For example, in Reba's case, I had done earlier research on that Brasfield family of Monroe County, Mississippi because Susan and her children lived near my great grandfather's half-brother. I had followed their path back into Alabama and had seen that they had come from North Carolina, but when I discovered that they had been in the earlier counties at different times than my Thorntons, I quit pursuing the line. It would have been interesting to see the steps they took to get them to the specific county and earliest ancestors mentioned. Having done quite a bit of research in Mississippi and Alabama, I know that it is not always an easy process to locate the ancestors in the Carolinas. (In some cases, it's not as difficult, but in others, it can take a long time and a lot of case building and proof arguments to reach a conclusion.)

My other complaint with this season is that they begin re-runs before they've made it through the new episodes. I had the same complaint in the first season when they were showing the Sarah Jessica Parker episode repeatedly, and it was one of my least favorites of the season.

I've seen the posts showing how the ratings are lower this season than in previous ones. I've heard some say they prefer to wait until they can view it with fewer commercial interruptions. I had to watch one of the episodes online because tornadic activity in our area pre-empted the show. When I switched to the channel where they normally broadcast the NBC programming if they pre-empt the main channel for weather coverage, it wasn't showing. I found out that they started it a bit later, but the show was already in progress by that time, and I didn't want to join it already in progress.  I've given up my usual Friday night activities just so I can be home to watch WDYTYA to try to boost the ratings, but I suspect a lot of people have not done this. However, I can't wonder if the real reason that the ratings are lower this season is because people are finding the series less engaging because people who have watched the earlier seasons have tried to find their family and have not had the success these celebrities have had because their ancestors are not magically popping up when they do a search. I remember one case where the person was searching for an ancestor, and the person typed in a different spelling than the manner in which the celebrity spelled his or her name. It is obvious the celebrity had been told how to type the name. Many of the new researchers don't know the tricks that more experienced researchers have up their sleeves.

It would be nice if local genealogical societies or libraries with genealogical collections could present programs that would address some of these issues to keep them interested in pursuing their family history. In some cases, the societies are inactive or non-existent. In some cases, they won't pay the money to bring in speakers who actually could bring the expertise to help people get over the the hurdles and their own local speakers lack that ability. The genealogical society in my county meets at a time when those of us who work cannot typically attend. Why in the world does a society hold its meetings at 1:00 on Thursday afternoons? It's obvious they are not interested in growing the society. I've been able to attend two of their meetings. In both cases, all they did was sit around and expect someone to ask them questions. I think I did ask them once why they held their meetings at 1:00 on Thursdays when no one could attend. I don't remember what their answer was, but it was nothing but an excuse. (The society in the next county over is much more active, but its meetings are held on the evening that I typically work.) I certainly did not have research questions for them. The county was one of the later counties to be formed so most of the records I really need are in the parent counties rather than the current one. I have no ancestors in the county so the only research I do in that county is what I am doing for clients. With bad meeting times and poor programming, they will never be able to reach those in our community who may be struggling with their attempts to research their family history.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Whipping Club by Deborah Henry (Book Review)

Henry, Deborah. The Whipping Club. s.l.: T.S. Poetry Press, 2012.

This is the story of an Irish Catholic woman and Jewish man who fell in love with one another. She began pregnant and was encouraged by her priest to give up the child to an orphanage run by Catholics with the understanding that the child would likely be adopted by an American family. Years later after she and her lover are married and have a child, she becomes aware that the boy is still in Ireland at the orphanage. She and her husband attempt to regain custody of their child, but they are met with resistance. Will they succeed in their efforts? What will happen to the child?

This is not a story for everyone. The abuse suffered by the child is extreme, and it's definitely not for the squeamish. The writing was a bit uneven. The characters were not as developed as they could have been. It's a scathing indictment of the homes for unwed mothers and orphanages run by the Catholics.

This review was based on an e-galley provided by the publisher through NetGalley with the expectation that a review would be written.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

An Unusual Citation

I receive the Monroe Journal, the newspaper for Monroe County, Mississippi, each week by mail. It usually arrives up to a week after the actual date of the issue. In the issue which arrived today, dated February 29, 2012, there was a rather unusual article written by Emory A. Morgan whose byline is "Monroe County Historian." The article is entitled "Sixty-Five Unmarked Graves in Monroe County" and appears on page 8A. I was really hoping that the article was in the online version of the paper, but it was not. What appears in the article is not what I would classify as history. I'll let you decide on the proper term. The morning DJs on one of our local radio stations would call it "bullhockey."

Before I go on, I should say that Mr. Morgan is a grave douser. He mentions a visit to the Lann Cemetery in the county where he took one of the newspaper's reporters to prove his ability to douse graves at one point. She had told him that her grandfather had replaced some of the field stones in the cemetery with tile pots. Apparently the question is where they came from because there were no nearby Civil War engagements . The article goes on where Mr. Morgan decides that they must be burials from Franklin and Nashville where some of the Monroe County troops had been engaged in battle and that wagons had gone to retrieve the bodies and "bring them home." 

Here is where the article gets interesting. Mr. Morgan took a psychic to the cemetery on January 1. She managed to get 5 of the 65 buried there to communicate with her, according to Mr. Morgan. Some of them gave names and other information; others mostly commented on their charming characteristics. Some told how they died in the battle.

So, exactly how does one cite a revelation by a dead person to a psychic?

Book Review: The Last Days of the Jerusalem of Lithuania

Kruk, Herman. The Last Days of the Jerusalem of Lithuania : Chronicles from the Vilna Ghetto and the Camps, 1939-1944. Ed. by Benjamin Harshav ; trans. by Barbara Harshav. New Haven, Conn.: Yivo Institute for Jewish Research, Yale University Press, 2002.

Herman Kruk, a librarian, lived in Vilna Ghetto in Lithuania during the early days of the Holocaust. He kept a diary of his time in the ghetto which extended to a concentration camp in Klooga, Estonia where he and other Jews were eventually exterminated. This is an important diary because it chronicle what everyday life was like for the Jews in Vilna Ghetto at the time. It is a fascinating read even though it is slightly over 700 pages. Rarely does one read a chronicle of events that touches the day to day existence of Jews suffering through the Holocaust at the level in which this work does. It is remarkable that this diary made it through the Holocaust to be read by us today.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Next-door Neighbors

Last night, the episode of "Who Do You Think You Are" featured Reba McEntire and her connection to the Brasfield family of Monroe County, Mississippi.

It appears that my great-grandfather's half-brother T. R. "Bud" Thornton and Reba's grandmother Reba Brasfield may have been neighbors for awhile. I discovered in the 1920 census for Monroe County, Mississippi that Reba (Brasfield) and her mother Susie J. (Raper) Brasfield are residing with Susie's brother William Raper in the house adjacent to Bud and Harriet.*

I remembered the Rapers being next door, and I remember having looked into that Brasfield family before. It wasn't in my online database, however, so I wasn't sure why I had researched them. It turns out that it was because I was researching the neighbors!  It's nice to know that my family knew Reba's family.

The Thorntons had actually gone to the part of Oklahoma in which Reba's family ended up residing earlier in the 20th century. They didn't stay. I can't help but wonder if the stories that Bud's brother John may have told about their adventures in Indian Territory may have influenced the Brasfield family's move to Oklahoma.

* 1920 U.S. Federal Census, Monroe County, Mississippi, Hatley Pct., Beat 1, s.d. 1, e.d. 26, p. 216B (stamped); NARA microfilm publication T625, roll 886; digital image, Ancestry.com, accessed 3 Mar 2012; NOTE: William Raper household is dwelling 250, family 255, lines 68-76; Tom Thornton household is dwelling 249, family 254, lines 60-67.