July 22, 2017

A Family History Murder Mystery: The New Genealogy Gems Book Club Pick

“A  true story of passion, family, and forgiveness in Southern Italy.” The subtitle to this family history murder mystery promises a LOT–and it delivers! It’s the new pick from the popular Genealogy Gems Book Club.

 

As a child, Helene Stapinski heard stories about her great-great-grandmother who fled Italy–with young children in tow–after being involved in a murder. Parts of the story were vague: who was killed? Why? When? How? Nobody knew. But other details were startlingly precise and consistent. She had to leave her husband behind. A man named Grieco helped her escape. A child was lost on the way to America.

Years later, Helene embarked on a 10-year quest to learn the truth behind this family legend. Her journey took her to Matera, Italy, “a province tucked away in the farthest reaches of Southern Italy…filled with such intense poverty that no one really liked to talk about it.” On her first trip, Helene got to know the region, some distant cousins, and a bit of local history–but came away with few answers about any actual murder. Other than that some of the locals didn’t want her prying into it.

But she didn’t give up.

And eventually, after traveling again to Italy, her determination and a small band of helpers led her finally to a 600-page criminal file from November of 1872.

It was true: there was a murder. But it wasn’t exactly as the family had said. In fact, the truth was SO different that Helene realized her family was not who she thought they were. And that meant Helene herself was not who she thought she was.

The rest, you can read for yourself in Helene’s new memoir, Murder in Matera: A True Story of Passion, Family, and Forgiveness in Southern Italy. It’s part history, part re-imagined family story. It’s a story of poverty and power, love, tragic decisions, and a courageous and desperate woman’s leap for a new life across the ocean. Helene continues to unravel a past that she explored in her fantastic first family history memoir, Five-Finger Discount: A Crooked Family History, an all-time favorite of mine. I read it again whenever I need a little boost of motivation to keep my own research going. Helene is so fantastic at telling her family stories within the bigger picture of the times they lived in–and her personal response reminds me how important my own family stories are to my own identity.

The rest, you can read for yourself in Helene’s new memoir, Murder in Matera: A True Story of Passion, Family, and Forgiveness in Southern Italy. The noted journalist continues to unravel a past that she explored in her fantastic first family history memoir, Five-Finger Discount: A Crooked Family History. This new book is part history, part re-imagined family story. It’s a story of poverty and power, love, tragic decisions, and a courageous and desperate woman’s leap for a new life across the ocean.

Watch below as Helene introduces us to her genealogical journey:

New to the Genealogy Gems Book Club?

The Genealogy Gems Book Club serves up delectable reading choices for family history lovers! You’ll find top titles from best-selling authors from around the world: novels and true stories about families, family relationships, the search for identity or fascinating times in history. Click here to see what’s been on the menu lately.

…And thanks for sharing this recommended reading with your genealogy buddies!

How to Write Family History More Powerfully: Tips from a Master Storyteller

Wish you could write family history like a master storyteller? Take a page from best-selling novelist Fannie Flagg’s fiction-writing. These three steps will help you bring your ancestors’ stories to life, so that their stories become as compelling to your relatives as they are to you.

Powerful storytellers create characters so vivid, we miss them when we finish reading. They take us into worlds that become just as real. Experiencing their stories changes us, even if just subtly. Fannie Flagg is one of this generation’s great storytellers, and she does all three of these things in The Whole Town’s Talking, our current Genealogy Gems Book Club title. The book is an excellent example for family history storytellers who want to bring their own ancestors to life in narratives that captivate and change their own loved ones.

3 Keys to Amazing (Family History) Storytelling

1. Create vivid characters.

Lordor Nordstrom seems an unlikely hero at the beginning of The Whole Town’s Talking. He’s a 30-something single Swede who has come to the heartland of the U.S. to build a life. He’s a quiet man, a hard worker who starts a dairy farm. But then he starts to stand a little straighter and attract people his direction because he has a dream of what his world should look like. He places ads in newspapers and convinces other Swedes to settle nearby. Swedetown is born around him. We start to see that his quiet determination and vision are accomplishing great things for himself and others. Then this quiet, unprepossessing fellow gets up the nerve to place another newspaper ad:

Swedish man of 37 looking for Swedish lady for marriage. I have a house and cows.

But when he gets a response from a “24-year old Swedish lady of the Lutheran faith,” he starts to sweat and stammer and second-guess himself. He gets his picture taken: he looks like a hayseed. He gets a haircut: the bowl-cut style was a bad idea. But he persists despite feeling totally unready for the sweet, refined young lady who, after more stammering and shyness, eventually and very willingly becomes his bride.

NOW YOU TRY IT:

Think of an ancestor you want to write about. What do you know about him or her? Do you know she was born in a tiny village, or that he lost three siblings at once in a cholera epidemic? Do you know he was the first in the family to learn to read? Or that her husband disappeared when she had three children and one on the way?

You have to pay close attention to historical records to notice those kinds of details. You also have to think about and make connections between different events. That’s how you’ll realize those three siblings all died at the same time, and that not long after, he left school to take care of his family. Then you can start to create a “character” out of those scrawled names and details in all those old records.

Write down 5-10 specific details you know about an ancestor. If you can’t think of any, start scrutinizing historical records. Note physical details in military records or passport applications. Did he naturalize? Could she read English? How old were they when they married? Construct a timeline and make connections: “Oh my, he lost his wife in childbirth at the same time his father died. Suddenly he was caring for both his 82-year old mother and a newborn!”

2. Paint the historical backdrop.

Fannie places the story of Lordor and his want-ad bride Katrina in the beautiful but largely unknown American Midwest. The future of that country was as unwritten as the future of this couple. Gradually a small immigrant town comes into being, content to be its modest, friendly self. Fannie tells us about Main Street, the local businesses, the churches, the town’s main families and how they are related. We get just enough gossip to feel we know the people. In fact, we can imagine ourselves stopping in to gossip over a fence or attend a church potluck. The things that happen to the characters are more imaginable because we can picture the setting.

The story of Lordor and Katrina doesn’t just unfold against the settling of the Midwest frontier, though. As the narrator, Fannie Flagg puts Lordor and Katrina’s marriage into historical context, too. They were like many mail-order couples during a period of great change and movement in American history, she says:

On both sides, it was a desperate game of chance. But, surprisingly, many marriages did work out, and the results helped populate the country with a hardy and adventurous stock. People were willing to travel anywhere, sacrifice anything, to own their own land, to be free and be independent.

Though Fannie is writing fiction, she’s writing within a real historical world that she researches and loves to bring to life.

NOW YOU TRY IT:

We, too, can paint detailed portraits of our ancestors’ lives on a broader canvas of history. Do some reading about the history of the town and region. Look for trends or patterns or events that would specifically have affected your ancestors, based on where they lived, their ethnic or religious identity, financial status, gender, etc.

Click here to read more tips for learning the history surrounding your ancestors’ lives: Tell Your Ancestor’s Story: Use Social History for Genealogy

3. Give readers something to think about, or a reason this story matters.

The title of this story–The Whole Town’s Talking– doesn’t just refer to neighborly gossip on the streets and church pews of Swedetown (which eventually becomes  Elmwood Springs). The key to this story is what happens at the town cemetery, on a hill overlooking the town on land donated by Lordor. After town residents die, we meet them again when they “wake up” in their cemetery plots. They still have their memories and personalities. They banter with each other and fawn over loved ones who come to visit their graves. They keep up on town gossip and their grandchildren and changes in society as best they can.

What I took away from this delightful scenario is the idea that family love persists past the grave. That memories of loved ones we honor at a cemetery may just be powerful enough to keep them there and, in a sense, alive. That they continue on.

NOW YOU TRY IT:

It’s not always easy to find a running theme, meaning, or message in a life you’ve researched. After all, you don’t see the whole thing. And most lives don’t unfold along a single theme. But if you’re excited enough to write about an ancestor, something about their story moves you. What is it? Try to put your finger on it. And then write about it, like this short passage about my own ancestor:

“What I see in Thomas Selby’s life is a man who never stopped moving or building. The challenges and opportunities of the frontier were to him an open door, beckoning to him. He started life with no apparent advantages, given away by his mother. That didn’t seem to dim his confidence. He was apparently uneducated, yet he studied law and argued a case before the Ohio supreme court. He bought up land and established friendships in southeast Ohio, then lit out for the California Gold Rush. He failed dramatically: the shipload of flour he took to sell the Goldrushers spoiled and he apparently had to walk all the way home. It took him seven years. But being broke didn’t stop him from buying homestead land in Missouri on the way home and immediately relocating his family. Eventually he settled there and spread his energies into creating enterprises: a flourishing farm, a general store, and judgeship.

I also see a man who seems to have totally excluded his wife and children when making decisions about the future. It was a common attitude for his time. But I think of him striding up to his yard on an evening seven years after disappearing, ragged and worn from the road. Family lore says he saw his wife come to the door with a gun and yelled, “Don’t shoot, Huldy, it’s me!” But if I were Huldy, finding out it was him–and that he’d just decided to move me into the wilderness without even consulting me–might just have made me pull the trigger.”

For more storytelling inspiration, curl up with Fannie’s Flagg’s novel The Whole Town’s Talking–and then tune in to the upcoming Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode 148, in which Fannie herself joins us on the show. (Premium website membership required–but we play an excerpt in the free Genealogy Gems Podcast episode #204.

 

Genealogy Mystery Series to Die For: Genealogy Gems Book Club

May is Mystery Month, so the Genealogy Gems Book Club is spotlighting a favorite genealogical mystery series writer: Nathan Dylan Goodwin. In his latest, forensic researcher Morton Farrier finally confronts his own past.

We first met British novelist Nathan Dylan Goodwin when we featured his novel The Lost Ancestor in the Genealogy Gems Book Club. The hero, Morton Farrier, is a forensic genealogist. He’s dogged, thorough and totally likeable. Morton now appears in an entire series about his research adventures–both his professional ones and his personal ones. We think they’re all worth reading! Enjoy them individually–or grab the value bundle on Kindle.

Here’s the lowdown on the full series or Morton Farrier mysteries, in order:

Hiding the Past. In this debut novel, we meet British genealogist Morton Farrier. He’s tenacious and thorough, qualities that make him an excellent investigator–but put him in danger when he starts investigating the mysterious identity of Peter Coldrick. Despite the clear danger to himself and his tough-and-adorable fiance Juliet (a police officer), Morton won’t back off. Meanwhile, he learns a startling truth about his own roots.the lost ancestor genealogy gems book club

The Lost AncestorMorton is hired to find out what happened to his client’s great-aunt Mary, who disappeared without a trace a century ago while working as a maid at a grand English estate (gotta love the Downtown Abbey-style drama!). This is the book we featured in the Genealogy Gems Book Club, which Nathan talked about in the Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 180 (free excerpt) and the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast #124 (subscriber-only).

The Orange Lilies: A Morton Farrier novellaMorton confronts a long-standing mystery in his own family–one that leads him just a little closer to the truth about his personal origins. This Christmas-time tale flashes back to Christmas 1914: World War I, to a turning point in his relatives’ lives. Don’t miss it!

The America Ground. A no-man’s piece of land–formed from the sea as Hasting Harbor silted in–became home to a lawless neighborhood where a woman was killed more than 180 years ago. It falls to Morton Farrier to uncover her story. Distracted by the unfolding mystery of his own parentage, he doesn’t realize the danger he’s unwittingly stumbled into until it’s almost too late.

The Spyglass File: A Morton Farrier novellaA client’s unknown past leads Morton to a young woman’s secret mission during World War II. Her name ends up in the mysterious Spyglass File, a subject so dangerous that Morton has bad guys after him as soon as he starts prying. He may or may not get kidnapped right before he’s supposed to marry the lovely Juliette. Meanwhile, Morton anguishes over the continuing mystery of his own roots.

The Missing Man. Morton Farrier can’t wait any longer: he must unravel the mystery of his own past. Who is his American father and why did he disappear from his mother’s life, despite letters evidencing his devotion? What, if any, role did a devastating house fire play in his disappearance? Morton and Juliet head to the east coast in the United States to confront surviving relatives, learn what they can about Harley Jacklin and help Morton come to terms with whatever he discovers.

Nathan joined us for a great conversation on the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode #124. Click here to learn more about joining Genealogy Gems Premium website membership or click here to hear a free excerpt in Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 180).

What does Nathan Dylan Goodwin read?

On his must-read list of genealogical fiction are two we’ve mentioned on the Genealogy Gems Book Club page:

The Marriage Certificate by Stephen Molyneux. Peter, a genealogy buff, buys a marriage certificate on display at an antiques gallery. He begins researching the couple with an idea of returning the certificate to them. Eventually he uncovers several secrets, one with some money attached to it, but others are also chasing this money. Surprise twists bring the story into the present day and Peter has a chance to become a hero.

genealogy gems book clubThe Forgotten Garden, a novel by Kate Morton. Recommended by a Gems fan. The premise was inspired by Kate’s own family history: “A tiny girl is abandoned on a ship headed for Australia in 1913. She arrives completely alone with nothing but a small suitcase containing a few clothes and a single book—a beautiful volume of fairy tales. She is taken in by the dockmaster and his wife and raised as their own. On her twenty-first birthday, they tell her the truth, and with her sense of self shattered and very little to go on, ‘Nell’ sets out to trace her real identity.”

genealogy book club family history readingKeep up with great reading recommendations like these ones! Follow the Genealogy Gems Book Club. Click here to see what else we’ve recommended.

The Whole Town’s Talking! Fannie Flagg on Genealogy Gems Book Club

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.)

Much-loved characters from other Fannie Flagg novels appear in The Whole Town’s Talking (or at least their ancestors do). Swedish immigrant Lordor Nordstrom is an ancestor of young Dena Nordstrom from Welcome to the World, Baby Girl! Among his neighbors are the fascinating families of spunky Elner Shimfissle, her nervous niece Norma and Poor Tot from Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven. We even hear echoes of Neighbor Dorothy,  the famous housewife with the radio show in Standing in the Rainbow.

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 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.

When you finish The Whole Town’s Talking, consider picking up one of the other Elmwood Springs stories already mentioned: Welcome to the World, Baby Girl! or Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven or Standing in the Rainbow.

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.

I hope you enjoy Miss Fannie Flagg as much as Richard and I do! The immortal storyteller herself will join us on the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast in two months. So go read The Whole Town’s Talking! (And if you’re not a Genealogy Gems Premium website member, consider becoming one. A teaser clip from our conversation will appear in the free Genealogy Gems Podcast episode #204, but to hear the whole thing, you’ll need access to the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode #148.

 

 

Family Secrets, History and Love in the Great Depression: Genealogy Gems Book Club Pick

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.)

Annie will join us in the March 2017 Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast for an exclusive interview. That’s a members-only podcast; everyone else can catch a meaty excerpt in the March episode of the free Genealogy Gems Podcast. Between now and then, watch our blog for related posts on The Truth According to Us and the Great Depression–including genealogical records produced by the WPA.

Once you’ve enjoyed The Truth According to Us, I heartily recommend you curl up with Annie’s previous novel, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Watch a trailer for that book here:

Her popular Ivy and Bean children’s book series is also an international best-selling series, and my daughter Seneca gives it two thumbs up!

genealogy book club family history readingClick here to see more Genealogy Gems Book Club selections and how you can listen to Lisa’s upcoming exclusive conversation with author Annie Barrows about The Truth According to Us.

 

Victorian Holiday Recipe: Coasting Cookies

victorian-coasting-cookiesSarah Chrisman shares a favorite Victorian holiday recipe just in time for baking season! These “coasting cookies” bring to mind the cold-cheeked fun of sledding in the chilly air of winter.

This holiday season, we’re celebrating all things Victorian with our Genealogy Gems Book Club featured author, Sarah Chrisman. She and her husband Gabriel live like it’s 1889–and have become first-hand experts on Victorian life. Here, Sarah shares a favorite Victorian holiday recipe for “coasting cookies” and the story behind it. The original recipe appears below, edited to a modern recipe format, along with Sarah’s notes (in parentheses) on adapting the recipe for modern cooking.

Victorian Holiday Recipe: Coasting Cookies

Image courtesy of Sarah Chrisman.

Image (and closeup image above) courtesy of Sarah Chrisman.

Ingredients:
1 pound flour (3 1/3 cups)
8 oz butter (1 cup, softened)
1/2 pint molasses (1 cup)
1 Tbsp (baking) soda, beaten very hard in the molasses
1 Tbsp coriander seed, pounded in a mortar
(crushing whole seeds retains more flavor)
1 Tbsp (whole) carraway [sic], pounded in a mortar
(yields about 1 3/4 Tbsp when crushed)
ginger to taste (1 Tbsp powdered ginger)

Original instructions:
1. Soften the butter.
2. Stir in the molasses, ginger, seeds, and flour.
3. Roll thin and cut.
4. Bake in a quick oven.

 

coasting-cookies-comment

Sarah’s updated Coasting Cookies instructions:
1. Crush the caraway and coriander together,
add the ginger and set aside.
2. In a large bowl, beat the molasses and baking soda 2-3 minutes; it will turn a very pretty pale caramel color as the alkaline soda reacts with the acid in the molasses.
3. Add the butter and flour and mix well.
4. Bake 8-10 minutes at 375 degrees.

 

The Original recipe appears in In the Kitchen by Elizabeth S. Miller. (Boston: Lee & Shepard, 1875), p. 365.

Ladies' Toboggan Race, Kiandra, c. 1884–1917. Wikimedia Commons image; click to view with citation.

Ladies’ Toboggan Race, Kiandra, c. 1884–1917. Wikimedia Commons image; click to view with citation.

Sarah explains the story behind “coasting cookies:”

Gabriel was attracted to this recipe because the word ‘coasting’ in the name put him in mind of bicycles.  However, it turned out to be a sledding reference, as seen in this excerpt from an 1877 short story:

“‘Coasting’ and snow-balling were the bloom and glow of those long, icy months; and the very thought of my youthful exploits in these cold Vermont days makes the blood tingle in my veins…  [T]here were lots of ‘fellers,’ small boys, so utterly extinguished beneath their big caps and mufflers, that, to the uninitiated, it would seem necessary to dig them out, like potatoes out of a hill, before they could be recognizable. Well, these ‘fellers’… had glorious times together, and considered it the great business of life in winter to coast, and skate, and fire snow-balls, being somewhat apt to resent such interruptions as going to school, doing ‘chores,’ or eating regular meals.”—Church, Ella Rodman.  “A Story of “Doughnuts,” Petersen’s Magazine, July, 1877,  p. 65.

love-will-find-a-wheel-by-sarah-chrismanAlthough they were originally named for the sport of sledding, Gabriel and I found them to be equally delicious after cycling expeditions. Consequently, in my Tales of Chetzemoka cycling club series, these cookies are special favorites with the club members. Here’s a fun excerpt from Book Two, Love Will Find A Wheel:

…”You’re all coming here afterwards, aren’t you?”  She asked the club in general.  “My sewing circle ladies will be here again.”

Mr. Goldstein leaned on his fifty-inch wheel and laughed.  “Since my wife will be here I won’t get much peace if I don’t come!”

Felix and Ken exchanged put-upon looks, then a thought seemed to occur to Felix and his face brightened.  “Are you going to be making those coasting cookies again?”  He asked Mrs. Brown.

She smiled indulgently.  “I already made them.  There’s five dozen of them on plates in the pie safe, just waiting.”

“Only five dozen?” Ken whined in mock disappointment.

Felix punched him lightly in the shoulder.  “Don’t worry, I’ll save you half of one—if you’re nice to me.”…

sarah-chrismanSarah will join us in the December Genealogy Gems Podcast and Genealogy Gems Premium podcasts. Click here to learn more about her and her Victorian-themed books, both fiction and non-fiction. For more Victorian recipes: click here for roast Thanksgiving turkey with chestnut stuffing and gravy and Sarah’s homemade cranberry sauce and hearty vegetable hash.

genealogy book club family history reading

The Victorian Bicycles Your Ancestors May Have Ridden

victorian-bicycles-featured-imageVictorian bicycles like the “Ordinary” high-wheel and the woman’s racing tricycle were anything but ordinary! Check out this video footage of our Genealogy Gems Book Club featured author Sarah Chrisman and her husband Gabriel on their high-wheels–and Gabriel’s demonstrations of how to ride a high-wheel Victorian bicycle.

Sarah and Gabriel Chrisman live like it’s Victorian times. Their dress, home life, household appliances, daily technology use (except for communicating with the rest of the world as needed) and even their daily transportation choices are all driven by what would have been done in the 1880s and 1890s.

Victorian Bicycles About Town

Check out this footage (below) of the couple “about town” on their Victorian bicycles. Gabriel launches himself onto a high-wheel “Ordinary” style bicycle. He rides a modern replica of an 1885 Victor with a 52″ wheel (the bicycle is sized to his leg length, like a man’s trousers) and an 1887 Singer Challenge. Sarah trails along on a modern re-creation inspired by a Coventry Rudge Rotary tricycle from the 1880s. They talk about what they do and why–and the message they hope others will take away from their unusual lifestyle.

Victorian Bicycles vs. Present Day Cycling

Gabriel has over 20-years’ experience working in a bike shop (a modern one), and enjoys comparing past and present cycling models. In an interview at Bicycling.com, he explains: “I’m a long-time cyclist with lower back issues—I can sit on this bike and be perfectly vertical and upright, which is wonderful for comfort, and you get a better view. One of the things I always used road riding for is meditation, and riding a high-wheel bike is an excellent bike for that—it’s just a magical experience gliding along and feeling the rhythm of everything.”

Below, Gabriel demonstrates how to mount his 1887 Singer Challenge high-wheel bicycle:

And here he shows off just a little, riding with one leg (we’re impressed):

Victorian Bicylces for the Ladies

A couple seated on an 1886 Coventry Rotary Quadracycle for two. Wikimedia Commons image in the public domain; click to view.

Victorian Bicycles: A couple seated on an 1886 Coventry Rotary Quadracycle for two. Wikimedia Commons image in the public domain; click to view.

Sarah’s tricycle was originally made to accommodate ladies’ fashions of the day: long, full skirts that would have gotten caught in the spokes of an Ordinary and pantalet drawers with open crotches that would have revealed more than a lady would prefer if she were seated on a taller Ordinary. A “bicycle built for two” quadracycle version was also made, shown here.

“There were a number of different styles of tricycles in the nineteenth-century,” Sarah explains on the couple’s website. “On many models the rider sat between two large wheels and a third, smaller wheel was seen out front or behind the rider. However finely they were made though, all the metal and solid rubber on those large wheels adds up to a lot of weight, so an asymmetrical model was developed. The Rudge Rotary (which inspired mine) was known for its lightness and speed and gained a reputation as a racing trike. The right-hand grip turns the two smaller wheels in tandem with each other: They steer it. The big wheel drives the machine: It gets turned when the treadles go ’round.”

This Victorian Life at Genealogy Gems

this-victorian-lifeLearn more about Sarah and Gabriel’s unusual lifestyle in Sarah’s memoir, This Victorian Life. She will discuss that book and Victorian life in general in an upcoming Genealogy Gems Book Club interview with host Lisa Louise Cooke. You can catch highlights from that conversation in our free December epiosde of The Genealogy Gems Podcast, and the exclusive full length interview on the Genealogy Gems Premium podcast (episode 142). Not a Premium member yet? Click here to learn more about Premium membership benefits–not least of which is access to unique conversations such as this one!

Bonus Genealogy Gems Book Club recommendations: Sarah has also written other books about Victorian life, including a “Cycling Club Romance” series inspired by their own experience with the Victorian-era cycling craze. Click on the book covers below to learn more about them. (And if you choose to purchase, thanks for doing so using these links, which support more free content like this.)

victorian-secretstrue-ladies-and-proper-gentlement-sarah-chrisman first-wheel-in-town-sarah-chrisman

genealogy book club family history reading

The Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 193: Published!

Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 193The Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 193 is ready for listening! It’s packed with genealogy news you can use; inspiring tips from listeners and experts and the NEW Genealogy Gems Book Club pick.

Ready to tune in the newest episode of The Genealogy Gems Podcast? Episode 193 offers a true “variety show” of news, listener comments and expert insights. Your DNA Guide Diahan Southard weighs in with a key principle for genetic genealogy: helping you understand the not-quite-so-simple relationship between your genetic family tree and your genealogical family tree.

download backblazeMy favorite segment in The Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 193 actually comes from Lisa’s listener mailbox, though. This listener responded to The Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 192 with a tip of his own on the U.S. Public Records Index, some great sleuthing on his part into an adoption mystery in his family and even his own research into the area of Sussex, England, which Lisa highlighted in the show in connection with The Summer Before the War, the previous Genealogy Gems Book Club title.

genealogy book club family history readingSpeaking of the Book Club, this episode also announces a brand new featured book. It’s another novel about love and war by a British author. But it’s a different war, a different kind of love story and a VERY different way of telling the story! Click to the podcast episode for the “big reveal.” I will tell you this: Gems audio editor Vienna Thomas just remixed our upcoming interview with the author and she LOVED it! She said now she can’t wait to read the book.

GGP award finalistThe FREE Genealogy Gems Podcast has been entertaining audiences on the “internet airwaves” for years! Nominated last year for the first-ever Academy of Podcasters awards, the show has had more than 1.75 million downloads worldwide. Host and producer Lisa Louise Cooke is loved for her warm conversational style, inspiring family history stories and the expert genealogy tips she threads into each episode–especially the tech tips we all need to keep up with the fast-paced and exciting world of genealogy.

GGP thanks for sharingThanks for listening! And thanks for recommending The Genealogy Gems Podcast to your genealogy buddies. You’re a Gem!

10 Family History Memoirs We Love: Genealogy Gems Book Club

family history memoirs we loveFamily history memoirs are a beautiful and personal way to write your family history. Here are 10 family history memoirs we love.

Memoirs these days aren’t the stodgy, only-written-by-the-famous tomes of the past. Anyone who has a story to tell can write a memoir. Well, genealogists often have fantastic stories to tell. Some stories call on their own memories. Some stories come from research discoveries and the ways these discoveries have changed them. Many genealogists have a combination of both kinds of stories to tell. These are the kinds of stories you find written up as family history memoirs.

Here are some of our favorite family history memoirs from the Genealogy Gems Book Club, our no-commitment online book club with exclusive interviews with the authors:

genealogy book clubAnnie’s Ghosts: A Journey into a Family Secret by Steve Luxenberg. One of Lisa Louise Cooke’s all-time favorite interviews was a chat with the author about this book. “I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed reading Annie’s Ghosts,” says Lisa. “This book inspired me, gave me concrete ideas for pursuing my own family history research, AND kept me on the edge of my chair. What could be better? Steve is such a riveting writer and speaker, and it’s fascinating to hear how someone who is not a genealogist–but rather a journalist–approached his family history search in an effort to find the answers to mysteries in his families.” Listen to the interviews in Genealogy Gems podcast episodes 120 and 121. This book and interview planted the seed for the Genealogy Gems Book Club!

family by ian frazierFamily by Ian Frazier. In this tale of a genealogical journey, the best-selling author explores his small-town, middle-class roots in the U.S. He explains a purpose that arose from loss: “I wanted my parents’ lives to have meant something. I hunted all over for meanings of any kind….I believed bigger meanings hid behind little ones, that maybe I could follow them to a source back tens or hundreds of years ago. I didn’t care if the meanings were far-flung or vague or even trivial. I wanted to pursue them. I hoped maybe I would find a meaning that would defeat death.”

five finger discountFive-Finger Discount: A Crooked Family History by Helene Stapinski. An unforgettable personal narrative! The author tells her family history within the criminal and blighted culture of Jersey City, New Jersey, U.S.A. She interweaves the stories of more infamous personalities from her hometown with those of her grandfather and other relatives. She seamlessly weaves her own memories with her research and shares how she has come to terms (or not) with her “crooked family history.”

genealogy book clubThe Journey Takers by Leslie Albrecht Huber. Here’s another book Lisa profiled on the podcast awhile back. Leslie is a professional genealogist who spent thousands of hours researching the stories she tells about ancestors who left homes in Germany, England and Sweden for new lives in the United States. She writes about their experiences but also her feelings about it, in a book about both a family’s history and the effect it has on the present. Check out Lisa’s interview with Leslie in the free Genealogy Gems Podcast episode Episode 98.

Orchard House Genealogy Gems Book ClubOrchard House: How a Neglected Garden Taught One Family to Grow by Tara Austin Weaver. This memoir of re-building a garden in Seattle with the author’s mother is also about the planting, pruning, patience and hope that’s part of rebuilding family relationships. This is our most recent featured title in the Genealogy Gems Book Club. Listen to a free excerpt of our interview with Tara on the Genealogy Gems Podcast episode #189.

out of the shoebox by yaron reshefOut of the Shoebox: An Autobiographical Mystery by Yaron Reshef. In this memoir, Yaron gets a phone call about property his father purchased in Israel years ago. He and his sister can inherit it, but only if they can prove that man was their father. He goes on an international paper chase into the era of World War II, the Holocaust and the making of Israel. A forgotten bank account surfaces and more surprises happen during Yaron’s two-year quest to understand the tragedies of his family’s past and recover some of its treasures.

genealogy book club Running Away to Home: Our Family’s Journey to Croatia in Search of Who We Are, Where We Came From, and What Really Matters  by Jennifer Wilson. In this book, Jennifer takes us on a once-in-a-lifetime genealogical journey. She walked in her ancestors’ shoes and lived among their descendants.” Lisa Louise Cooke profiled this book in Episode 129 of the Genealogy Gems podcast and was so inspired by the story that she created this YouTube video on the book.

 

genealogy book clubShe Left Me the Gun: My Mother’s Life Before Me by Emma Brockes. An award-winning journalist tells the story of her discovery of her mother’s tragic childhood in South Africa. This is a genealogical journey, complete with trips to archives, poring over old court cases and dramatic reveals. But it’s so much more than that! It’s also about learning the past from living relatives. This is the ultimate how-to book for exploring and sharing sensitive family stories because she shows you how it’s done. Listen a meaty excerpt of our interview with Emma Brockes on the Genealogy Gems podcast episode 174 and the full-length interview in Premium episode 118.

three slovak women by lisa alzoThree Slovak Women, Second Edition by Lisa Alzo. You may know Lisa as a popular speaker on Eastern European genealogy at national conferences. This is her nonfiction account of three generations of Slovak women in the steel-producing town of Duquesne, Pennsylvania, and the love and sense of family binding them together. It will inspire your own family history writing projects! Click here to hear Lisa in the free Family History Made Easy podcast talk about her reasons for researching her family history and what she’s learned along the way, including in her travels in Eastern Europe.

worst country in the worldThe Worst Country in the World by Patsy Trench. This is a first-person narrative about her Australian ancestors, who were among the first European settlers in that fascinating country. Patsy actually quit her job and traveled from London to Australia several times to research the story of her fourth great-grandmother and other relatives. She describes the book she wrote as “a hybrid: part family history, part memoir, part novel.”

Free PodcastLearn more about family history storytelling styles and hear passages from three of the above books in the free Genealogy Gems Podcast episode #179. Or click here to read more about the Genealogy Gems Book Club.