Monday, April 30, 2012

Book Review: The American Resting Place by Marilyn Yalom

Yalom, Marilyn. The American Resting Place: Four Hundred Years of History Through Our Cemeteries and Burial Grounds. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2008.

Yalom has given us an interesting look at many different cemeteries across the United States. She begins her tour in Boston and makes her way along selected locations on the east coast such as Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Georgia. She then makes her way to St. Louis, Chicago, New Orleans, Texas and eventually to California and Hawaii. Although it fails to be comprehensive, it is representative. She discusses differences based on religion and ethnicity in burial practices as she visits each cemetery and notes the various types of markers. While her focus is on the locations mentioned, she does occasionally mention cemeteries that are similar in other parts of the country. For example, she notes that Cincinnati's Spring Grove Cemetery was based on the garden approach used at Cambridge, Massachusetts' Mount Auburn Cemetery. The author included Hawaii in her treatment, but she failed to include Alaska, which I'm sure would have been another interesting location for treatment. She notes that most slaves were buried in forests and fields without markers or with simple markers such as stones and have been lost over time. She also points out that many of California's early Chinese persons were only temporarily buried in the United States, having been sent back to China for burial after a few years. It's an interesting look at cemeteries and burial practices. Her emphasis on the differences in burial practices based on religion and ethnicity is quite useful.  She includes notes for each chapter in the back of the book although they are definitely not comprehensive and are not keyed to specific passages. Her bibliography is probably more useful in the long run than the chapter notes. While there is an index with cemeteries and persons included, it fails to be comprehensive. (Spring Grove Cemetery is omitted.) The book is prefaced with a section of black and white photographs. While there are omissions, the book is still deserving of reading.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

By Faith Alone by Bill Griffeth (Book Review)

Griffeth, Bill. By Faith Alone: One Family's Epic Journey Through 400 Years of American Protestantism. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2007.

CNBC anchor Bill Griffeth shares the story of his family's history in this short and highly readable volume. The author used sources from books to original records to the Internet in compiling his work, but the reader can tell that he has done his homework and that he has documented his research instead of simply relying on undocumented published trees. He has made extensive use of published local histories, some published family histories, church histories, church records, and religious works in bringing his ancestors to life. The author traveled to many of the places where his ancestors resided in order to understand their lives, and his experiences in these places are interwoven into the narrative in a way that does not detract from the story. I often read books written by journalists and am completely disappointed in them, but this is one book that far exceeded my expectations. The author's religious heritage is varied -- from the Puritans of Massachusetts, many of whom later became Congregationalists, to the Dutch Reformed and Presbyterians of New York, to Methodists, to the Christian Church, and even to the Catholic Church. As I read some of his narratives, I was certain that many of his Massachusetts ancestors probably knew some of my own ancestors because of the experiences that they shared, even though their names were never mentioned. Griffeth has done us a great service by producing a book that demonstrates the incorporation of local, social, and religious history along with the data genealogists collect to make ancestors come alive. I borrowed this from a friend, but I will definitely be purchasing my own copy as it is one that I want to own.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Beastly Things by Donna Leon (Book Review)

Leon, Donna. Beastly Things. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2012.

Commissario Guido Brunetti investigates a man whose body is found in one of the canals. The man suffered from a rare disease which affected the upper portion of his body. The man's identity leads the investigation to a slaughterhouse. Brunetti is convinced that the key to the murder lies there, but with no one talking, he's having difficulty developing the case. It's an interesting case. Although the outcome is somewhat predictable, the author managed to maintain my interest. There are a couple of subplots that add some interest to the novel in just the right places. This has become one of my favorite mystery series because the Venetian setting makes for interesting plots and because Brunetti and his wife are such interesting characters. This review is based on an e-galley provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

A Most Contagious Game by Catherine Aird (Review)

Thomas Harding purchased a country estate sight unseen. He regrets having turned over the matter of the purchase to his wife during his convalescence, but all that changes when the odd placement of an electrical outlet leads to the discovery of a hidden room in the house. When they finally tear away the plaster someone had used to seal the hidden priest's hole, they find an old skeleton. With a current murder investigation, the local law enforcement is not very interested in the older crime. Thomas begins investigating on his own. This is probably going to be an all-time favorite mystery. Thomas uses the same types of principles that a good genealogist would utilize to investigate the persons living in the home at that time period and earlier. This is an absolute gem of a mystery and one that I'm sure I'll want to read again in the future. 5 stars.

Where Did They Live?

If you've been indexing the 1940 census (or even using it), you know that there is a line that asks where people were residing 5 years ago. One of the responses is "same house." This is what happens when an enumerator has had a rather long day and is tired of writing the same thing over and over again.

As you can see, one person was living on "some horse." Now, I can imagine that would get to be very uncomfortable, particularly in the elements and for sleeping

Another person was living in "some hose." I think those would be pretty cramped quarters.

I think this was in an Attala County, Mississippi census that I was indexing.