Critical Family History Book Review: Bella’s Legacy

Who was Bella, and what might be her legacy? In her debut novel, Luanna Meyer fictionalizes four generations of her family history, with a focus on the women and their life choices. Journalist Bella Colquhoun emerges as the novel’s fictionalized writer. Young widowhood, lost babies, triumph and regret, conflict and reconciliation, dreams taken up and […]

Book Review: Trace

Trace is a beautifully written, award-winning account of Lauret Savoy’s digging into the layers and crevices of history, time, and place in a quest to identify strands of her identity. I am grateful to my friend and colleague Running Grass of Three Circles Center for drawing my attention to Savoy’s work. In Trace, Savoy details […]

Critical Family History Book Review: Before we were Yours

Adoption presents challenges to family historians. Perhaps the greatest challenge is figuring out how important it is to trace biological ancestors, especially if they have had little or no role in actually raising a person. Lisa Wingate, in Before we were Yours (Ballantine, 2017), grapples with this question, although her purpose is mainly to critique […]

Book Review: The Lost

The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million tells the story of how Daniel Mendelsohn searched for all he could learn about one family that perished during the Holocaust. What particularly intrigued me about this prize-winning book was the author’s decision to cast it mainly as a memoir about the process of searching for a […]

Critical Family History Book Review: Homegoing

What might a family history look and feel like that, while not based strictly on genealogy, portrays in exquisite detail who one’s ancestors could have been? This is the project debut novelist Yaa Gyasi undertook in her breathtaking debut novel Homegoing (Knopf, 2016). Perhaps her greatest impulse in creating Homegoing was articulated by one of […]

Critical Family History Book Review: Women of the Dawn

In April, 2016, I had an opportunity to visit Indian Island in the Penobscot River of Maine, and to meet some members of the Penobscot Nation. In that context, I learned about the wonderful book Women of the Dawn in which anthropologist Bunny McBride narrates the lives of four Wabanaki women of different generations. The term Wabanaki, […]

Critical Family History Book Review: Sycamore Row

How might family history, situated in its wider context, help to explain the actions of a dying man that otherwise seem (to many people, including his family) bizarre? This turns out to be the central question in John Grisham’s riveting novel Sycamore Row, released in 2013. The novel, set in Ford County, Mississippi, opens with […]

Critical Family History Book Review: Silenced Voices

Inez Hollander grew up learning that her family’s past on the island of Java in Indonesia was “taboo even to remember.” Intrigued by self-censorship of not just her family but also Dutch society at large, she set out to uncover silenced stories which were part of a silenced history. Her book Silenced Voices chronicles her […]

Critical Family History Book Review: Everything I Never Told You

Everything I Never Told You, a novel by Celeste Ng, does not directly address Critical Family History. Yet, this well-written page-turner goes right to the heart of why Critical Family History is important. Everything I Never Told You, which tells the story of Marilyn and James Lee and their three children, probes the power of […]

Critical Family History Book Review: The Warmth of Other Suns

Can you re-theorize history based mainly on oral history interviews with elders who may not appear in many other historical records? That is exactly what Isabel Wilkerson did in her award-winning book The Warmth of Other Suns, which tells the story of the Great Migration of African Americans from the South to the North and West […]