Annie Barrows Talks Family History and The Truth According to Us

Annie Barrow interviewIf you’ve read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, you know how brilliantly co-author Annie Barrows stitched together letters, conversations and history in her fictional love story and account of the Nazi-occupied island of Guernsey during World War II. I love that book. So I was super excited to hear her talking on The Diane Rehm Show recently about her new book, The Truth According to Us: A Novel.

Of course, Annie read from the opening of her book, which made me put it at the top of my reading list. Then she talked about how history can be so different, depending on who is telling the story and from what perspective. I loved her take on small-town history and family history: how it’s remembered so deeply and passionately by its own, and often so mis-remembered or mis-represented by outsiders.

Here’s the book summary from Amazon:

“In the summer of 1938, Layla Beck’s father, a United States senator, cuts off her allowance and demands that she find employment on the Federal Writers’ Project, a New Deal jobs program. Within days, Layla finds herself far from her accustomed social whirl, assigned to cover the history of the remote mill town of Macedonia, West Virginia, and destined, in her opinion, to go completely mad with boredom. But once she secures a room in the home of the unconventional Romeyn family, she is drawn into their complex world and soon discovers that the truth of the town is entangled in the thorny past of the Romeyn dynasty.

At the Romeyn house, twelve-year-old Willa is desperate to learn everything in her quest to acquire her favorite virtues of ferocity and devotion—a search that leads her into a thicket of mysteries, including the questionable business that occupies her charismatic father and the reason her adored aunt Jottie remains unmarried. Layla’s arrival strikes a match to the family veneer, bringing to light buried secrets that will tell a new tale about the Romeyns. As Willa peels back the layers of her family’s past, and Layla delves deeper into town legend, everyone involved is transformed—and their personal histories completely rewritten.”

Annie did talk about the Guernsey book, too. I hadn’t realized her aunt wrote the original manuscript, then became too ill to do the rewrites her publisher wanted. So Annie took on the task. As the author of the acclaimed Ivy and Bean children’s series, clearly she was up to the task. But she didn’t dream it would become an international best-seller!

Genealogy Gems Book Club Genealogy Family HistoryThat’s my latest recommendation as the “curator” of the Genealogy Gems Book Club. We recommend mainstream fiction and nonfiction titles that resonate with people who love family history. Up soon on the Genealogy Gems Book Club schedule: our interview with author Nathan Dylan Goodwin, author of The Lost Ancestor (The Forensic Genealogist) (we’ll put the link up on the Book Club page when it’s ready). We also recently published this new companion list of how-to genealogy books we love.

 

Find Your Ancestors in Freedmen’s Bureau Records–or Help Others Do the Same

freedmens bureau announcementThe more I learn about U.S. history and records, the more I appreciate the challenges faced by those researching their African-American roots. In addition to the emotional toll of learning about their ancestors’ hardships, today’s researchers face the practical challenges of finding kin in records that mostly ignored their existence.

That’s why I’m super excited that the Freedmen’s Bureau records are finally being fully indexed. Scattered records are already transcribed (see the Freedmen’s Bureau Online). But there hasn’t been a comprehensive index of its 1.5 million state field agency documents. These include military pensions, marriage records, property claims, hospital records, trial summaries, labor contracts, school rolls, registers and censuses. Many of the four million African-Americans freed from slavery are mentioned, as are many white Southerners.

FamilySearch indexers began quietly indexing Freedmen’s Bureau records in 2009: the state of Virginia’s records are already searchable. Last week, in observance of the Juneteenth holiday (which celebrates emancipation), FamilySearch issued a call to action. They asked for help indexing the rest of the Freedmen’s Bureau within the year.

“Records, histories and stories will be available on DiscoverFreedmen.org,” says a release. “Additionally, the records will be showcased in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, which is currently under construction on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and expected to open in late 2016.”

freedmens bureau infographicHere’s a quick history lesson: The Freedmen’s Bureau was organized after the Civil War to aid newly-freed slaves in 15 states and Washington, DC. For several years it gathered “handwritten, personal information on freed men, women and children, including marriage and family information, military service, banking, school, hospital and property records,” according to FamilySearch.

The richest genealogical records of the Freedmen’s Bureau are in the field office records of each state. Click here to download a PDF from the National Archives about these original records.

Find more tips on finding African-American and other Southern U.S. ancestors here on the Genealogy Gems website. Recent posts include:

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Want to Help Index De-Classified CIA Records?

classifiedBy now, many of us have tried our hand at volunteer indexing and transcribing projects. We can index censuses, civil and church vital records, gravestone images, and more with FamilySearch, BillionGraves, Ancestry’s World Archives Project and even with individual archives like The Congregational Library.

What about de-classified CIA records and other government documents? Love letters between President Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson? These are among the indexing projects currently on the National Archives (US) Citizen Archivist dashboard.

“We have millions of pages of digitized records available in our online catalog,” says the Citizen Archivist website. “Transcription is an important way for us to improve search results and increase accessibility to our historical records. Your contributions make a big impact.” Other current projects include Confederate government papers, interviews relating to the September 11 terrorist attacks and letters to President Eisenhower about integrating schools.

These are all historically vital important records for the U.S. that may also shed light on our ancestors’ lives. My grandfather worked on classified government projects and I’m hoping to find his name in formerly “top secret” papers someday! Why not give it a try–index a batch of records through the National Archives Citizen Archivist project?

how to start a genealogy blogLearn more about inspiring genealogy volunteers on our blog! On the lower left side of the Genealogy Gems home page, click the category “Volunteer.” See what others do to help–and perhaps you’ll get inspired yourself!

 

 

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