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.

 

See the Incredible Piece of History This Auctioneer Stumbled Into

HMS Alert in pack ice during the Arctic Expedition of 1875. Wikimedia Commons image; click to see image and full citation.

HMS Alert in pack ice during the Arctic Expedition of 1875. Wikimedia Commons image; click to see image and full citation.

Every man-made object has a story behind it–and sometimes an entire chapter in history. One such object is a bottle of ale recently discovered in a garage in Shropshire, England. As reported by TheBlaze.com, a British auctioneer found the bottle. “It looked interesting, so I took a closer look — and, lo and behold, there on the cap were the words ‘Allsopp’s Arctic Ale,’ then embossed on the seal was ‘Arctic Expedition 1875.’”

Now the bottle is up for auction! Here’s the description from the auction site:

“An unopened bottle of Arctic Expedition beer dated 1875, with original intact label and contents. Allsopp’s Arctic Ale was brewed for The British Arctic Expedition of 1875. The Expedition was an attempt by the British Admiralty to reach the North Pole and included two ships HMS Alert and HMS Discovery under the leadership of Vice-Admiral Sir George Nares (1831-1915). Unfortunately the expedition failed to reach the pole but succeeded in mapping the coast lines of Greenland and Ellesmere Island.”

I wondered whether anyone else has sampled another bottle of ’75 Arctic brew. So I googled it. I found a beer blogger who loves the stuff! From Martyn Cornell’s Zythophile: Beer Now and Then blog post of June 10, 2012:

“One indisputably legendary beer is Allsopp’s Arctic Ale, the powerful, rich Burton Ale, original gravity 1130, north of 11 per cent alcohol, brewed in Victorian times….There are a very few bottles left of the Arctic Ale brewed for the expedition under Sir George Nares which set out in 1875 to reach the North Pole. And this week I drank some….

Amazingly, there was still a touch of Burtonian sulphur in the nose, together with a spectrum of flavours that encompassed pears, figs, liquorice, charred raisins, stewed plums, mint, a hint of tobacco, and a memory of cherries. It was dark, powerful and still sweet….Those frozen sailors on the 1875 British Arctic Expedition, some of whom set a new record for furthest north, traveling to within 460 miles of the North Pole, must have cheered whenever another bottle was thawed out and decanted into their mugs.”

Navy/Marine Corps Purple Heart Medal with gold 5/16 inch star and lapel button in presentation case. World War II. Wikepedia Commons image; click to view full citation.

Navy/Marine Corps Purple Heart Medal with gold 5/16 inch star and lapel button in presentation case. World War II. Wikepedia Commons image; click to view full citation.

What history do your family artifacts hold? Click here to read about other family heirlooms, lost and found, trashed or treasured, reported here on our blog, like a post about a Purple Heart medal like the one shown here.

Have you heard a great story like this? Post it on our Genealogy Gems Facebook page or email me!

 

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:

sign up newsletterReceive a heads-up about posts like these–and get a free e-book on Google searching for genealogy–when you subscribe to the free Genealogy Gems newsletter in the upper right corner of this webpage or our home page.

Search for Early New England Ancestors FREE this Coming Week

New England ancestorsIn honor of Independence Day in the United States, AmericanAncestors.org is offering free access to databases on early New England ancestors starting TODAY through July 8.

If you have Mayflower, Pilgrim or Puritan ancestors (or want to confirm the rumor that you do!), you’ll want to take advantage of this offer from the New England Historic Genealogical Society. For many years the society has been researching “the 20,000 men, women, and children who crossed the Atlantic between 1620 and 1640, seeking opportunity and relief in New England.”

The Great Migration Study Project, as their work is known, has resulted in several databases, nine of which are open to the public for FREE during the first week of July 2015:

The Great Migration Begins.  This database “attempts to identify and describe all those Europeans who settled in New England prior to the end of 1633,” states an NEHGS press release. “As a rough estimate, about 15 percent of the immigrants to New England arrived in the fourteen years from 1620 to 1633, with the remaining 85 percent coming over in half as many years, from 1634 to 1640.”

The Great Migration Newsletter. “This database comprises Volumes 1 through 20 of the Great Migration Newsletter, published between 1990 and 2011. Each 32-page issue contains one or two feature articles, a column with editor’s comments, and a review of recent literature on the Great Migration. Each issue also contains a section with detailed coverage of one of the towns settled during the Great Migration, or of a specific critical record, or group of records.”

The Great Migration:  Immigrants to New England, 1634-1635, Volumes I—VII, A-Y. (7 separate databases) “As many as 2,500 people immigrated in 1634 and again in 1635….In May 1634, the population of Massachusetts doubled in just one month….Each alphabetical entry for a family or individual includes:

  • Place of origin, if known
  • Date and ship on which they arrived in New England, if known
  • Earliest known record of the individual or family
  • First residence and subsequent residences, when known
  • Return trips to their country of origin, whether temporary or permanent
  • Bibliographical information such as birth, death, marriage(s), children, and other important family relationships, church memberships, and civil and military offices held.”

 

Click here to access these databases for free between July 1-8, 2015. (Registration at AmericanAncestors.org is required as a FREE Guest Member.)

how to start a genealogy blogLooking for more FREE New England genealogy resources? Check out these blog posts!

We Dig These Gems: New Genealogy Records Online

 

We learn about great new genealogy records online every week! On Fridays we round up a few for you. Watch for databases and documents that your ancestors might appear in–and get inspired by the types of records that may be out there for your family, waiting for you to discover. This week: Michigan death certificates; Zimbabwe death notices, wills and trusts and an oral history archive of New Zealand nursing.

We dig these gems

MICHIGAN DEATHS. Images of Michigan death certificates from 1921-1939 are now available for free at Seeking Michigan. “The index for records from 1940-1952 will be made available in the next few weeks, with additional certificate images to be released each year as privacy restrictions are lifted (1940 images will be released in January 2016),” says a press release.

“Together with the records from 1897-1920 that have been available at the site for years, this collection makes Seeking Michigan the one-stop destination for more than 2.6 million free, publicly-available 20th century death records for Michigan ancestors.”

ZIMBABWE DEATH NOTICES. Over 130,000 indexed and browsable records from the Zimbabwe, Death notices, 1904–1976 are now available on FamilySearch. According to the description, “The records included in this collection consist of death notices and registers obtained from the National Archives at Harare and Salisbury, Zimbabwe. The collection includes indexes of closed and open files. The records are written in English. It appears those records that are labeled ADM are probably administrations which are separate from the death registers and they contain wills and living Trust records. Birth and death registrations did not include African tribal members until 1963.”

NEW ZEALAND ORAL HISTORIES. A new web archive of oral histories of New Zealand nurses is now available. “The aim of this website is to capture this rich history and create a resource that nurses, students, academics and family members can access in order to gain a better understanding of nursing history in New Zealand,” says the site’s home page. The site contains a “large collection of oral histories including abstracts, recordings, photos and other information. These histories have been collected from nurses who trained during the 1950s and 1960s and capture both the everyday elements of nursing practice along with some of the more unusual. Here you are able to listen to stories, read brief abstracts, and view photos of the nurses.” Got a story to tell? They are accepting new interviews. There’s also a section on hospitals and one on nursing uniforms.

 

check_mark_circle_400_wht_14064Not sure how to find record sets like these for YOUR family history? Here’s a tip! If your keyword searches for record types aren’t bringing up good results, try switching the order of the search terms. In English-language searches, word order counts.

This tip comes to you courtesy of the book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, Second Edition by Lisa Louise Cooke–the fully-revised 2015 edition that’s packed with strategies that will dramatically improve your ability to find your family history online.

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