Your Quick Tips, 12 January 2009

Book Review on Nineteenth Century City Life
Have you ever wondered what life was really like for your ancestors? If they were working class people in an American city in the nineteenth century, the book Challenging Chicago, by Perry Duis (University of Chicago Press, 1992) will reveal how hard the business of everyday life was for them. For example, we all know that the horse provided transportation for people and goods. The movies give us romantic images of horse-drawn carriages clip-clopping cheerfully along the street. But Duis describes what that meant in real life–streets covered with a semi-frozen slush of manure and snow in winter, muddy manure oozing between the pavestones in spring, and stingy, smelly brown dust covering everything in summer. But people could no more do without horses than we can without the internal combustion engine. A nationwide equine flu epidemic in 1872 killed half the horses, bringing factories to a halt, leaving produce rotting in rail cars, and ushering in an economic panic that lasted two years.

As its title suggests, the book is about Chicago, but in many ways, it paints a portrait of any large city at that time. It covers topics such as housing, work, transportation and food. It describes the shopping options for an urban housewife and the enterprising people who created the “curbstone economy,” buying goods wholesale and selling them to individuals on street corners or door-to-door.

Duis is more historian than popular writer, but his prose is clear and engaging, and he peppers the pages with quotes from writers of the time. I recommend this book to anyone who is curious about urban life in the “good old days.”

Linda Kush
Boston, Massachusetts Continue reading

Book Club: Winning of America Series

Here’s a book review submitted by one of our readers:

I highly recommend reading the Winning of America series, by Allan W. Eckert.  Do not be put off by the size of these books.  (Each one is approximately 700-800 pages)  These books are fact, not fiction, but written in narrative form, which makes for fast, interesting reading.  From the Intro of each book:  “Every incident described actually occurred; every date is historically accurate; every character regardless of how major or how minor, actually lived the role in which he is portrayed.” 
The author’s research for each book is impressive, evident by the wealth of documentation (footnotes, explanatory notes, and bibliographies) included.  If your ancestors were pioneers or among those who settled in the U.S. as each area opened for settlement, you may very well find the names and activities of these ancestors in one of the books.  For instance, in
The Frontiersmen I discovered the date my fourth great-grandfather emigrated from Pennsylvania to Kenton’s station in Kentucky.  I further learned that he was a Captain in Kenton’s Kentucky militia and likely participated in many of the incidents documented in this book.  Also, until I read Wilderness Empire, I didn’t know that one of his sons-in-law was a very famous frontier spy and the date and circumstance of his death are provided.  The bibliography is a real treasure. 
The series includes the following books in the order they were written, but it is not necessary to read them in this order: 
The Frontiersmen, Wilderness Empire, The Conquerors, The Wilderness War, Gateway to Empire, and Twilight of Empire.  In addition, his book that is not in this series, That Dark and Bloody River, is a must for anyone with ancestors who settled in the Ohio River Valley.  One caution–these books are not for the squeamish.  Atrocities committed by both Europeans and Indians against each other are vividly described. 
Nancy Masterson

Book Review: Every Family Has a Story: Tales from the Pages of Avotaynu, edited by Gary Mokotoff

Avotaynu book.bmpReview by Loretto Dennis Szucs 

We genealogists focus so much on our research, we sometimes forget that our work often affects others, usually in a positive manner. Avotaynu has just published a hardbound book that consists of articles that originally appeared the quarterly journal, Avotaynu: The International Review of Jewish Genealogy. Each story focuses on the human side of genealogy–how genealogists have been personally affected by their research and how the research of genealogists has affected others.

Typical is the lead story of the book. Some of us grew up knowing that we were adopted as infants. If we were taken in by a loving family, we are blessed indeed, but anyone who has traveled this road in life understands that sooner or later there will be a deep yearning to know the circumstances. What happened to my birth parents? Freya Blitstein Maslov who wasn’t motivated to find her birth parents until she was in her forties and became involved in genealogical research. She then discovered that she had seven natural siblings–and she was the only one adopted out. What happened to her and seventy-one other fascinating stories make up the eight sections in Every Family Has a Story.

From the Mokotoff’s “Yes, Virginia, There was a Sean Ferguson,” a light-hearted tale about a poor Jewish immigrant who allegedly wanted to change his name at Ellis Island, to the heart-wrenching stories of men, women, and children who perished in the Holocaust, the book is thought provoking.

While many of the stories have a Jewish slant, I found each of the vignettes to be compelling. It’s impossible to come away from the book without learning some important lessons about history and research – and about what caring people can do when they work together to honor their ancestors.

A complete Table of Contents and a sample story can be found on Avotaynu’s website.

Every Family Has a Story: Tales from the Pages of Avotaynu, edited by Gary Mokotoff. 304 pp. Bergenfield, N.J: Avotaynu, 2008. $37.00.

Civil War Reflections, by Maureen Taylor

This Republic of Suffering.bmpEvery so often I read a book that changes the way I think about something. Harvard University President Drew Gilpin Faust’s This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War is one of those books.

Two of my great-great grandfathers fought in the Civil War. One served for a brief six months, returning home ill with dysentery while the other enlisted in several regiments until a ball went through his right hand causing a permanent disability. My family was one of the lucky ones. On the first page of the preface, Gilpin tallies up the numbers for us. Two percent of the population died between 1861 and 1865; in today’s terms that would amount to 6 million dead. Confederate soldiers were three times as likely to die as those in the Union forces. Soldiers and civilians died in conflicts that raged across farm lands and in our urban areas; the line between battlefield and home blurring. If a soldier was lucky enough to survive a battle, it didn’t mean disease or infection wouldn’t kill him later.

Death and dying weren’t simple matters in mid-nineteenth-century America. In pre-Civil War America when a person died they were usually surrounded by loved ones who cared for them in their last moments. During the War soldiers wrote home on the eve of battle not knowing if they’d be killed far from their family. It was important for grieving relatives to know the details of the soldier’s death and hear his last words so comrades stepped in and reported the details. Continue reading

Weekly Planner: Learn About the Women in Your Family Tree

Did you know that March is National Women’s History Month? Why not honor the women in your family tree by learning a little more about what their lives were like? While our female ancestors didn’t always leave as many records as we would like, their contemporaries may have. Look for social histories on what life was life in the times and places in which your family lived. If you’d like to see some titles from my collection, see the titles below. Feel free to add your favorite women’s history titles in the Comments section. 

America’s Women: Four Hundred Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines, by Gail Collins (Harper Collins, 2003)

Erin’s Daughters in America: Irish Immigrant Women in the Nineteenth Century, by Hasia R. Diner (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983)

Ireland’s Women: Writings Past and Present, selected by Katie Donovan, A. Norman Jeffares, and Brendan Kennelly
(W.W. Norton & Co., 1994)

A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812, by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich (Vintage Books, 1990)

Good Wives: Image and Reality in the Lives of Women in Northern New England, 1650-1750, by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich (Vintage Books, 1980)

Foreign and Female: Immigrant Women in America, 1840-1930, by Doris Weatherford (Facts on File, 1995)

Click here for a printer friendly version of this article.

Book Club: Rett MacPherson Mysteries

Last week we asked for your favorite genealogy- or history-related books. Here are a few responses I received this week. Enjoy!

I have just finished reading all the mystery books by Rett Macpherson. I LOVED them! Plus after reading them I went to her website and found that she and I are distant cousins! She writes books about a genealogist that solves mysteries in her small town using her genealogical expertise. Very good books.

Kim Dourte

If you’ve read a good book lately, you can share it with our readers by sending your review to

Book Club: Country Cookbook and Country Stories

Country Cooking.bmpI wrote a country cookbook about life in the South in the 1900 to 1950 period with recipes used during this time.  

Country Cookbook and Country Stories is a collection of country recipes that vary–from easy to cook recipes such as Cowboy Beans to challenging recipes such as Red Velvet Cake. Mouth watering country food on every page along with short stories from the early 1900s as told to the author by Grandpa and Grandma.

Grandpa’s Whiskey Still and the Bailey cabin built in the early part of the last century is included in the picture section along with mules pulling a cane juice mill to squeeze cane juice. The author demonstrates how early farmers sharpened their tools on a foot powered grind rock. Several other pictures show scenes from early farm life. Recipes, stories and pictures describe how the early settlers lived in the southeastern part of the United States in the early part of the last century.

The author sincerely hopes you enjoy the recipes and the stories from a time that will never come again. Remember cooking is an art, so feel free to change the recipes to your liking and to the way your stove cooks. Names, dates and locations have been changed to confuse you although the stories are based on actual events that happened during the nineteen thirties and forties in the South.

This is the first book in a series with short country stories and old country recipes. This book is about countrywomen who created dishes from what they had on hand while doing farm chores and chasing critters away from children and livestock. Sometimes food was plentiful and sometimes not. Working farmers were always hungry and the food disappeared at the first sitting.

The author remembers living in tenant houses on old farms in south Alabama, with outdoor plumbing facilities and a fireplace for heat in the winter. One house we lived in had cracks in the kitchen floor so big the rooster stayed under the house whenever we were eating. If you dropped a biscuit on the floor you had to move fast or he would have his head through the crack and grab the biscuit before you could reach it.

A short walk across the yard with a gun and you were in the woods after a squirrel or rabbit. The food was fantastic. Country cornbread and fresh buttermilk straight from the churn with all the fried chicken a growing boy could eat.

This book is dedicated to my mother, Alma Bailey Robbins. She married at a young age and can remember living in those times. She raised four sons and a daughter while living in the country in south Alabama.

My book is available at

J. D. Robbins


Book Club: The Captured and Blood and Thunder

The Captured: A True Story of Abduction by Indians on the Texas Frontier, by Scott Zesch. Mr. Zesch began searching for information about a great-great-grand-uncle and wound up researching the experiences of several children in Texas kidnapped by indians in the 1800s. Fascinating, well researched and a big plus–well written.

Blood and Thunder: An Epic of the American West, by Hampton Sides. This is a fascinating book for anyone with an interest in the history of this country, particularly the expansion to the West. The writing is riveting – Mr. Sides is an amazing writer, we’ve read all of his books.

Terry & Roberta Frederick

Bad Baby Names Now Available in the Ancestry Store

Bad Baby Names-mfsku4551.bmpWould you ever name your child Ima Breeding, Harry Guy, Jack Ashe, Stormy Knight, Ah Hoy, Emma Royd, Harry Hiney, Ada Squirrell, or Congress Place? Well someone did! These are just a few of the “Bad Baby Names” that parents saddled their children with. Most of the names in this book were found in U.S. Census records and now you can find these and more in the new Ancestry publication, “Bad Baby Names.”

Great for baby showers or just fun reading, you can buy Bad Baby Names in the Ancestry Store for $9.95.

And click here for even more fun on the Bad Baby Name blog. 

Book Review: Bonny Kate, Pioneer Lady

Bonny Kate, Pioneer Lady, by Mark Strength is a wonderful book! I could not put it down and others have said the same. It is history and a love story.

For more information, see the website                                                         

Margarette Stout

Thanks Margarette for this review. It looks like a good book and might even be something that I could entice my daughter to read!

If you have a genealogy or history related book or movie that you’d like to recommend, you can send it to and I’ll post it here on the blog.