Recently, Iâ€™ve been frustrated by what seems to be an emerging trend–non-genealogists getting their own family histories published as mainstream books in spite of mediocre research.Â The most recent Iâ€™ve come across presents the discovery of a census record from 1880 as a major find.Â This â€œrevelationâ€ is given to the author by an archives since she was unable to find it because the entry was indexed under an unexpected spelling.Â I was able to locate the same record on Ancestry.com in about 45 seconds, and if I were to give you the names, you could do the same.
I know not to judge a book by its cover and I suppose I should judge it more by its content than the research behind it,Â but as both a genealogist and writer, I canâ€™t help but consider both aspects.Â Iâ€™d like to see well-researched books such as Only a Few Bones: A True Account of the Rolling Fork Tragedy & Its Aftermath (by John Philip Colletta) and Isle of Canes (by Elizabeth Shown Mills) get a fraction of the attention that some of these other books receive.Â Where are all the genealogically-based best-sellers?
It was during an effort to investigate this matter that I managed to derail myself with a book-buying binge.Â I innocently went online looking for one book, saw a link to a similar book, allowed myself to be distracted by yet another link â€“ and well, came up for air about an hour later.Â Some of you will recognize yourself in my behavior.
At any rate, my binges always have a theme, and this time it was genealogical mysteries.Â Before the damage was done, I had ordered half a dozen books.Â I have to admit that Iâ€™m writing prematurely because Iâ€™ve only read one of them â€“ the other five having just arrived yesterday.Â But it seems a good topic for discussion, so I thought Iâ€™d share my initial reactions and see what others have to say.
The one book that Iâ€™ve read caught my attention (in spite of being self-published â€“ still a bit of a red-flag to me) because it was clear the writer was actually a genealogist.Â Lineages and Lies, byÂ Jimmy FoxÂ wasnâ€™t the best mystery Iâ€™ve read, but it wasnâ€™t a bad little diversion either.Â
You have to be willing to take a flight of fancy.Â For instance, I donâ€™t know too many gorgeous twenty-somethings hankering after middle-aged, professional genealogists (as much as we might like to imagine such possibilities).Â And having never belonged to any lineage society (my family tree consisting mostly of the riff-raff earlier arrivals would have liked to keep out!), Iâ€™m not in a good position to evaluate the portrayal of the featured (and fictional) society.Â But I suspect that those who actually manage such societies might be amused by the riches and state-of-the-art facilities described in the book.Â Having said that, much of the book does ring true to genealogists.
Kathleen Hinckley, whoâ€™s Executive Director of the Association of Professional Genealogists as well as a P.I., wrote a review for the National Genealogical Society Quarterly and had this to say about one of Jimmy Foxâ€™s other books:
â€œPrivate detectives and police investigators are often characterized as shady individuals in mysteries, but Jimmy Fox took a giant leap from that standard when he developed the character of ‘Nick Herald, Ph.D., CG.’ Heraldâ€™s unethical behavior is so routine throughout Deadly Pedigree as to make one wonder whether the author is purposefully mocking the field.Â Genealogists are known for their use of cemetery records to solve genealogical mysteries, but Nick Herald digs too deeply when he opens a casket to remove a sealed jar with documents he needs to solve his case . . .Â Fox demonstrates an excellent understanding of the players in the genealogical field.Â He sprinkles his story with references to the American Society of Genealogists, the Association of Professional Genealogists, the Board for Certification of Genealogists, and the Family History Library.Â He even portrays Herald as a reader of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.Â He describes census records correctly and touts the value of city directories, deeds, military files, passenger arrival manifests, tax rolls, and vital records.â€
A classic mixed-review if ever there was one!Â Yes, the writer takes liberties, but writers of fiction are permitted to do so.Â And I, for one, was grateful to see evidence of a writer who had actually immersed himself in the world of genealogy.Â Whatever the shortcomings of this book might be, the author knows a census record from a city directory!Â
So what do you think?Â Use the comments feature here to share your reactions with the rest of us.Â Thumbs up or thumbs down?
Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak, co-author (with Ann Turner) of Trace Your Roots with DNA: Using Genetic Tests to Explore Your Family Tree (as well as In Search of Our Ancestors, Honoring Our Ancestors and They Came to America), can be contacted through www.megansrootsworld.blogspot.com/, www.genetealogy.com and www.honoringourancestors.com.Â
- Upcoming Events Where Megan Will Be Speaking
Tidewater Genealogical Society
(May 20, 2006, Newport News, VA)
- Oaklyn Memorial Library
(May 23, 2006, Oaklyn, NJ)
- Roots in the Boot
(July 15, 2006, Pittsburgh, PA)