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Books for Genealogists

Posted in Genealogy in Fiction

Before I discuss the topic referenced in my title, I want to explain that the biggest reason for my absence is that another blog has been stealing my content (as well as that of other genealogy bloggers).  I didn’t want to post something here that this other blogger would just steal and claim as their own.  Taking an entire post and then linking back to me without making it clear that I wrote that entire post is not proper attribution, and I believe it is a violation of copyright; however, Google, who owns Blogger, the service hosting that blog, will not take the blog down unless repeated copyright violations are reported, which of course puts all of the responsibility on my shoulders.  I found it depressing to post here knowing my content would just be taken, especially when it is such personal content.  For instance, my grandfather, whom I have written about so much on this blog, has recently suffered a stroke, and even though he is on the mend, he is not well, and it impressed upon me yet again the importance of talking to your grandparents and other family and learning their stories before it is too late and you wish you had.  It makes me feel sick inside to know these thoughts will be stolen, but I am not going to let that person steal my blog.  In taking my content, that blogger has prevented me from posting at all, and it makes me angry.

On to my topic.

Most genealogists work alone and focus on their own families, but one thing I have learned since I began blogging about genealogy is that all family stories are interesting.  I have learned so much from my fellow bloggers about the practice of genealogy, and I have also learned that we are the preservers of the history that didn’t make it into the textbooks.  I have enjoyed learning about your families.  I don’t think I am alone in enjoying fiction that touches on subject matter of interest to genealogists.

Louise Erdrich’s recently published novel The Plague of Doves begins with the horrible murder of a white family in Pluto, North Dakota, a town on an Ojibwe reservation.  Four Ojibwe — one of them a boy — are lynched for the crime.  As time passes, the descendants of the victims and lynch mob intermarry creating a complex web of family history.  Pluto is indeed one of those towns where everyone knows everyone else, and almost everyone is related to everyone else somehow.  I think genealogists would find this study of generational baggage really interesting.  I am about 2/3 of the way through the book, and I am really enjoying it.

Years ago, I read Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, the first in a time-travel series that I hesitate to label romance, though others might.  The book begins with a husband interested in genealogy who takes his wife on a second honeymoon trip to Scotland with the side benefit of being able to research his family history.  As his wife learns when she accidentally is transported 200 years into the past, sometimes relatives that look like interesting characters on paper are not folks we’d really want to meet.  I do think genealogists would find the book interesting because almost all of us have wanted at some point to do as the protagonist Claire does and go back in time to learn more about an ancestor and perhaps even get to know them (I should make it clear that she doesn’t meet up with any of her own ancestors, but she does meet her husband’s).

I tried to read Lalita Tademy’s Cane River, but was distracted and set it aside.  I haven’t picked it up again, but I do plan to eventually.  Cane River came out of Tademy’s genealogical research and is a novelization of her own family’s story.  Who among us hasn’t thought about doing something like that sometime?

Alex Haley’s Roots is, of course, the perennial family saga, that sweeping testament to the power of learning about your family’s history and chronicling it.  I know that the novel has been criticized.  Haley claims he unknowingly plagiarized Harold Courlander’s The African, and Margaret Walker charged that he also plagiarized her novel Jubilee in a case that was dismissed.  In addition, some of the information in the novel that Haley claims to be true was proven false by genealogists.  But I think Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., a friend of Haley’s, has a good perspective: “Most of us feel it’s highly unlikely that Alex actually found the village whence his ancestors sprang. Roots is a work of the imagination rather than strict historical scholarship. It was an important event because it captured everyone’s imagination.”

While Anne Rice is not to everyone’s taste, I admit I found her novel The Witching Hour interesting from a genealogical perspective.  The Witching Hour is a multi-generational saga about a family of witches, the Mayfairs.  The saga begins with Suzanne Mayfair, who accidentally awakens a spirit we later learn is called Lasher.  Lasher binds himself to the family and attaches himself in particular to one witch in each generation.  The family is haunted by Lasher for 300 years as he embarks on his quest to become flesh and blood.  The family is plagued by incest.  I didn’t so much enjoy the parts that Rice set in the present, but she has a true eye for detailing the past, and I really liked meeting all the colorful characters in this family.  I should also mention that one of her vampire characters in The Queen of the Damned has kept a family tree of all of her descendants through female lines (as the male lines might not truly be her descendants!), and the funny thing to me when I read it is that one young woman doesn’t, somehow, think it’s odd or unusual that her family would have records of themselves going back about two millennia.  The genealogist in me wanted to shake her a little bit for that.

What’s your favorite “genealogy” novel?

If you are reading this from any other location aside from, please be aware you are reading plagiarized content and consider visiting the original source.  Do not support the efforts of bloggers who steal content by visiting ads on their sites.

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  1. TK

    Glad to see you’ve taken back your blog, Dana! Missed you! Thanks for the book suggestions. 🙂

    July 20, 2008
  2. Sheri Fenley
    Sheri Fenley


    We share some of the same tastes in reading material – The Outlander books and Anne Rice.

    Have you read the “The Time Traveler’s Wife” by Audrey Niffenegger or an oldie – Robert Silverberg’s “Up The Line”?
    Sheri Fenley
    Stockton, California

    July 21, 2008
  3. Thanks, T.K.

    Sheri, I have The Time Traveler’s Wife on my to-read list, but I hadn’t heard of Up the Line. I’ll have to check it out.

    July 21, 2008
  4. Dana I just went over to the other blog and I haven’t seen any of my posts there though I didn’t read all; just a few pages. Seems the 24-7 Family History was plagiarized repeatedly, too.

    Pretty cheap to just post someone else’s material without purpose and permission. I hope it’s stopped forever!

    August 3, 2008

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