Beloved American novelist Fannie Flagg is our newest Genealogy Gems Book Club author! Nobody can spin a story quite like she can, as she proves in The Whole Town’s Talking. You’ll love the stories of her funny, foibled characters in this intergenerational saga of a small, fictional town in the American Midwest.
The Whole Town’s Talking is best-selling author Fannie Flagg’s newest novel.A Swedish immigrant plants roots in the American Midwest and advertises in Swedish-American newspapers for a bride and neighbors to settle the land. Thus begins the town of Elmwood Springs, Missouri, the setting of several of Fannie’s previous novels.
Over several decades, descendants of the original settlers populate the town. As residents die, they appear again among their neighborly dead in the local cemetery. They continue to gossip and chatter and, occasionally, suffer. (One poor man finds himself buried between his first wife and his second, who didn’t get along in life and still don’t.)
In The Whole Town’s Talking, Fannie Flagg captures the broad sweep of Midwestern history while staying grounded in the stories of everyday people. It’s easy to fall in love with the folks from Elmwood Springs, to cheer them on in their struggles and successes, to match-make their children, to laugh along with them (and sometimes at them, bless their hearts). Their foibles and quirks likely will remind you of many on your family tree. That’s all the better, given Fannie’s premise that these folks continue to live on and take an interest in our lives. To a genealogist who falls more in love with her ancestors the more she knows buy medication online forum about them, I find this a pretty irresistible notion.
Special thanks to Genealogy Gems Premium member Richard in Sacramento CA, who recommended The Whole Town’s Talking! He loved “the time span, the family relations and the discussions as folks entered the cemetery and the town changed.”
There’s more of Fannie Flagg to love….
In fact, Richard has read all of Fannie Flagg’s books. He thinks several of them would be “valuable reads” for the Genealogy Gems Book Club.” I agree wholeheartedly! I’m a longtime Fannie Flagg fan, ever since I saw the movie version of her classic novel Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe.
I can’t resist recommending Fannie’s second most-recent novel, too: The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion. The main character is Sookie, a lovable Southern woman (she is Dena Nordstrom’s best friend in Welcome to the World, Baby Girl!) Sookie discovers she is not who she thinks she is. After a huge family secret is revealed, she questions everything she has ever believed about herself and her family. Sookie launches a secret search for a new sense of identity under the nose of her loving but domineering mother. She navigates the effects of her discoveries on her sense of identity, her marriage and her daughters’ lives. It’s funny, it’s poignant–and along the way she learns about a fascinating and little-known chapter in American history.
Genealogy for adoptees can be a difficult journey. A train ticket from 1856 and one of our most popular Genealogy Gems Book Club titles helped one woman solve an adoption family mystery. Here’s her story.
Ben Brooksbank [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Adoption Mystery: Solved
I recently read an article that I just had to share! Julia Park Tracey’s two-times great grandfather, William Lozier, was adopted. She wanted to trace his family history. Her only clue was the receipt for a train fare from New York’s Home for the Friendless to Oberlin, Ohio that William had. The ticket cost $7.50 and was dated 1856.
With a little bit of easy math, Julia realized that William would have been a three-year old at the time. Can you imagine? Julia was intrigued by the finding, but didn’t think much more about it until she read Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline. This piqued her curiosity about Williams’s story and she started researching. What she found was an astonishing story of family struggling to stay together during the hardships of 19th century life.
Along her research journey, Julia learned that William’s mother was widowed in upstate New York in 1848. Consequently, the woman lost the family farm and needed to give up her two oldest boys to an orphanage. She managed to hold on to her oldest daughter and baby William while she worked as a seamstress. Sadly, she still couldn’t make ends meet and ended up placing her last two children in an orphanage as well.
Julia explains in the article: “Martha was undaunted; she worked and saved, and eventually wrote to ask for her children back. The orphanage did not respond. In those days, a child’s moral and spiritual welfare were tantamount, and a single mother was seen as not fit to parent. Nevertheless, she found her way to her daughter, and at least one of her middle sons, if not both. Martha lived the rest of her life with her married daughter and her grandchildren. She died between 1900 and 1910, [but] she never saw nor heard of what had happened to Will.”
With these new pieces of information, Julia was able to trace the line back through time and generations. She even learned a little more about her unexpected DNA results! I am sure it was very satisfying to finally piece together the story of the old train ticket and William’s family story. Even the smallest clues like the old train ticket can lead to long-forgotten stories that add to our family history tapestry. Genealogy is all about persistence, and much like a detective, the smallest piece of evidence can make all the difference!
More on Genealogy for Adoptees
If you’ve been a Premium member for a while, you’ll recall Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline. It was one of our first Genealogy Gems Book Club selections—and based on feedback from you, it’s been one of our most popular choices. If you haven’t listened to Premium episode 121 which includes our interview with Christina, I encourage you to go back and listen. In that conversation, you’ll learn about the history of the orphan train riders in the U.S. and Canada and how the author researched it.
Our new Genealogy Gems Book Club pick takes you into the Great Depression with a young socialite’s WPA project to capture the history of a small West Virginia town. She finds drama, contradicting versions of the past and unexpected romance. Enjoy this novel by an internationally best-selling author!
It’s the summer of 1938. Wealthy young Layla Beck’s big problem is not the Great Depression: it’s her father’s orders to marry a man she despises. She rebels, and suddenly finds herself on the dole. A Works Progress Administration assignment lands her in Macedonia, West Virginia, where she’s to write its history. As she starts asking questions about the town’s past, she is drawn into the secrets of the family she’s staying with—and to a certain handsome member of that family. She and two of those family members take turns narrating the story from different points of view, exploring the theme that historical truth, like beauty, is often in the eye of the beholder.
That’s a nutshell version of our new Genealogy Gems Book Club featured title, The Truth According to Us by internationally best-selling author Annie Barrows. It’s available in print and on Kindle formats: click above to purchase. (Thanks for using this link: your purchase supports free content on the Genealogy Gems podcast and blog.)
What was it like to live in the Tudor age or the 1940s? Would you rather “watch” the answer or “read” it? Well, you can do both with these popular BBC historical documentary series and their companion books.
Ruth Goodman is known to BBC watchers as the woman who brings history to life in several documentary series. They’re all re-creations of rural life in a certain time period: the Tudor era, Victorian era, Edwardian era (which many of us know better as the Downton Abbey era) and even World War II. All of the series have episodes you can watch on YouTube for free. A couple of them also have companion books that give you the nitty-gritty–sometimes literally–in print.
Time for a little binge-watching (or reading!)! Below, you will find a sample episode from each series, along with the companion book and a link to watch more episodes on YouTube.
Tudor Monastery Farm
Tudor Monastery Farm is the official companion volume to the series. You’ll follow Ruth and her co-stars “as they discover how to build a pigsty, brew their own ale, forge their own machinery, and keep a Tudor household. Scrupulously researched, totally authentic, and with its own contemporary narrative playing out within an accurate reconstruction of Tudor England, this is a fantastic glimpse into history, as it was lived.”
Ruth’s more scholarly How to Be a Tudor riveted me–and I didn’t expect it to. My historical imagination doesn’t generally extend that far back in time. Ruth captured the little things that are so big like what it’s like not to bathe, how the food tastes, and how itchy the clothes are. When she waxed rapturous about studying a suit of clothing that was several hundred years old and falling apart in an archive, I felt an almost primal connection. I get that way about old documents. I’m just saying.
How to Be a Victorian: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Victorian Life is another critically-acclaimed “manual for the insatiably curious” by the “historian who believes in getting her hands dirty.” This time she reveals Victorian life (the mid and late 1800s) from daybreak to bedtime. Again, the devil and the delightful are in the details: how they got dressed, how and when and what they ate, and what work they did. I’m guessing nobody skips the chapters on the trip to the privy or “behind the bedroom door.”
“If variety is the spice of life, then Edwardian rural life has proved to be one heck of a curry.” -Ruth Goodman
In this series and the Edwardian Farm book, Ruth and her intrepid co-time-travelers live in England’s West Country as if it’s the turn of the twentieth century. At the time this was “a commercially prosperous region—a stunning rural landscape encompassing rolling farmland, wild moorland, tidal river, coast, and forest, which supported a vibrant and diverse economy.” The hosts spend a year “restoring boats, buildings, and equipment; cultivating crops; fishing; rearing animals; and rediscovering the lost heritage of this fascinating era as well as facing the challenges of increasingly commercial farming practices, fishing, and community events.”
During World War II, Britain couldn’t import much produce or other foodstuff as they were accustomed, so residents had to grow it themselves or go without. The series and the book Wartime Farm reveal “how our predecessors lived and thrived in difficult conditions with extreme frugality and ingenuity. From growing your own vegetables and keeping chickens in the back yard, to having to ‘make do and mend’, many of the challenges faced by wartime Britons have resonance today.”
This recipe for a Victorian fruit cake skips the poor-quality candied fruit that gives some pre-made modern fruitcakes a bad reputation (especially in the US). Instead, fresh coconut, citron and almonds fill this cake to bursting with natural flavors and textures.
This holiday season, Genealogy Gems Book Club featured author Sarah Chrisman is helping us celebrate all things Victorian, especially recipes! Keep reading to find links to the Victorian holiday recipes we’ve shared recently. In this post: a fruit cake that lives up to its history as a rich, flavorful dessert that’s worthy of the season.
Image courtesy of Sarah Chrisman.
Sarah Chrisman shared this recipe for a white fruit cake with us, along with this picture of her cracking a coconut in preparation for making this dish:
“Stir to a cream one pound of butter and one pound of powdered sugar. Add the beaten yolks of twelve eggs, one pound of flour and two teaspoons of baking powder. Grate one coconut, blanch and chop one-half pound of almonds, and slice one-half pound of citron and stir into the stiffly beaten white of the eggs and add to the batter. Put in pan lined with buttered paper, and bake slowly two hours.” -By Mrs. W.S. Standish, Plymouth Union Cook Book, 1894. pp. 56-57.
Here’s a quick video tutorial on how to blanch almonds:
What is citron? It’s a citrus fruit that is something like a lemon. According to this blog post on using citron in fruitcakes, it’s not always easy to find fresh citrons, but you can ask at your best local markets for a supplier near you or look for high-quality prepared citron that can be shipped to you.
The bombing of Pearl Harbor unfolds from the horrified notes in deck logs of ships in this short video narrative. Learn more about these and other resources for researching WWII ancestors at Pearl Harbor.
Today is the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and we pause to remember those who suffered in that attack. In honor of them, we share these unique resources for understanding what they went through that day.
Pearl Harbor Eyewitness Accounts
the National Archives (US) unfolds the terrifying action of the day from the point-of-view of sailors on ships at Pearl Harbor as they made ongoing entries in deck log books.
5 Ways to Learn about Pearl Harbor and Your WWII Ancestors There
Ship deck logs. According to this article in a National Archives magazine, deck logs of those ships docked at Pearl Harbor are part of the Records of the Bureau of Naval Personnel, Record Group 24, located at the College Park, Maryland facility in the Modern Military Branch. Click here to learn more about WWII-era deck logs at the National Archives, and here to learn more about naval deck logs and submarine deck logs in general.
National Archives guide. A new free guide can help you trace a person’s participation in World War II. The guide is “Finding Information on Personal Participation in World War II.” You’ll learn more about individual personnel files, military unit and ship records, merchant marine files, Army enlistment records, casualty records, and more.
Pearl Harbor casualty list. This free database lists all who died that day as a result of the attack. The dead and wounded included not only those who were on ships in the harbor, but civilians in Honolulu and military personnel in nearby locations.
Pearl Harbor: from Infamy to Greatness by Craig Nelson. Learn how “the America we live in today was born, not on July 4, 1776, but on December 7, 1941.” He follows the actions of leading characters on both sides of the conflict as it unfolded.
One more book we must recommend: Chris Cleave’s stunning novel Everyone Brave is Forgiven. As you follow the stories of its unlikely heroes through their unlikely wartime romance, you’ll feel like you were there. You will feel your heart pumping while reading about the ducking attacks on the island of Malta or imaging yourself driving through bombed-out London neighborhoods as fighter planes droned above you. We featured this book recently in the Genealogy Gems Book Club; listen to an interview clip with the author in the free Genealogy Gems podcast episode 195.