• Books
  • Jun1

    2 Comments

    Today is the 93rd anniversary of my grandparents’ marriage. Our family has never been particularly aware of the date, or even the event. But as I began reinvigorating my genealogy research a few years ago my first steps were to begin scanning all of our family documents and photos.

    May Egan, Uncle James Farrell & FriendAs I did so, my limited perspective on people began to change – rather than abstract folk fixed in time these images provided context and glimpses of them at various points in time. Last year I visited the church where my grandparents were married and found myself surprisingly touched just by standing in the spot where my grandmother must have waited at the rear of the aisle.

    We walk through life thinking we know the story. Any story. All stories. But we tend to focus mainly on the big ones. Those may be important, but often the seemingly mundane details can offer a finer and even more satisfying understanding.

    How Sound LogoThis morning I listened to the latest How Sound podcast entitled Mighty Tiny. At the start of the episode host Rob Rosenthal reads an opening quote that originally comes from the historian Will Durant. I was not familiar with Mr. Durant, but was struck by the perfect parallel of the passage to the perspective I have developed during my family research.

    I began to look into his writing and found that the Will Durant Foundation site contains a larger section of the passage. I think anyone active in researching their family will find that the ideas in these paragraphs are an affirmation of the task and that life on the banks is our inheritance.

           “It is a mistake to think that the past is dead. Nothing that has ever happened is quite without influence at this moment. The present is merely the past rolled up and concentrated in this second of time. You, too, are your past; often your face is your autobiography; you are what you are because of what you have been; because of your heredity stretching back into forgotten generations; because of every element of environment that has affected you, every man or woman that has met you, every book that you have read, every experience that you have had; all these are accumulated in your memory, your body, your character, your soul. So with a city, a country, and a race; it is its past, and cannot be understood without it.

    Perhaps the cause of our contemporary pessimism is our tendency to view history as a turbulent stream of conflicts – between individuals in economic life, between groups in politics, between creeds in religion, between states in war. This is the more dramatic side of history; it captures the eye of the historian and the interest of the reader. But if we turn from that Mississippi of strife, hot with hate and dark with blood, to look upon the banks of the stream, we find quieter but more inspiring scenes: women rearing children, men building homes, peasants drawing food from the soil, artisans making the conveniences of life, statesmen sometimes organizing peace instead of war, teachers forming savages into citizens, musicians taming our hearts with harmony and rhythm, scientists patiently accumulating knowledge, philosophers groping for truth, saints suggesting the wisdom of love. History has been too often a picture of the bloody stream. The history of civilization is a record of what happened on the banks.”

    - As quoted in “The Gentle Philosopher” (2006) by John Little at the Will Durant Foundation

  • May7

    No Comments

    The Saturdays (The Melendy Quartet)The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright

    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    (While not a genealogy topic per se, it is a story of family and of a time in history and may appeal to genealogy folks.)

    Elizabeth Enright’s Melendy Quartet of books are ostensibly children’s books, but they are much more than that.

    I read The Saturdays with my son when he was about 6 years old and we enjoyed it very much. This last year I read it again with my 5 year old daughter and it has only gotten better on the second pass.

    The story is of four children from the ages of 6 to 13 in 1930s New York City who have decided to pool their weekly allowance. Each week one then takes the pool to use the money to go on a day out wherever they wished – a concert, a museum and others.

    I believe my kids loved the book a great deal because of the vicarious freedom they experience through the characters. But I believe the the book is much more than the value of that story line for both them and adults – Enright’s writing is beautiful at times and downright funny at others. It also captures the period very well.

    There are a few moments in the books that may seem odd to children, now so far out of context of their original time period. (Rush cheerily calling Oliver “fatso” for example, or their wandering the city on their own.) But they are very minor in comparison to today’s daily fare and a small discussion about them can only help kids with their perspective.

    Enright paints a wonderful picture of a time of innocence in the children’s lives and all of the characters have a wonderful warmth and reality about them.

    Once we read this book my daughter couldn’t wait to keep reading – and I have to say that in her more pensive moments, Enright’s writing can even make you a little teary. I heartily recommend all four books in this series to both children and adults.

    View all my reviews

  • May2

    No Comments

    Little Chapel on the River: A Pub, a Town and the Search for What Matters MostLittle Chapel on the River: A Pub, a Town and the Search for What Matters Most by Gwendolyn Bounds

    My rating: 3 of 5 stars

    Little Chapel on the River is a community study of even tempo and simple observation. I appreciated the author’s reserve in description of both place and people.

    Over time she lets their actions and words paint the picture of a group of people whose intersection is not in their own backgrounds or personalites, but in their desire, no, their longing for a place to step out of life for a bit to contemplate and discuss what passes by on river and road.

    I had some difficulty in rating the book, though – I would give it a 3.5 stars if possible. My only complaint was that I found the stitching of the author’s passages to the life around the Little Chapel a little abrupt. I confess this was mainly an issue for me in the beginning of the book when I had not yet bought into the atmosphere and people of Guinan’s.

    Perhaps it is just that I found the apt simplicity of the writing at odds with the events of 9/11 that led to her journey up the river – but I suppose that a return to basics does make sense in retrospect and any other method would have run the risk of overexposing the image too early on.

    I would certainly recommend this to someone looking for a story of people and community.

    I actually found Little Chapel mentioned in a genealogy thread for people while searching for info on the Guinan family in my great-great-grandmother’s part of the tree. My Guinans happened to come from near Birr where the family in the book came from – so I thought I’d see if I could learn anything from the book.

    While I did not find too much info on the Ireland side of the story, I’m glad I found the book.

    View all my reviews

  • Dec31

    No Comments

    While reading Vincent J. Cannato’s American Passage – The History of Ellis Island I found something interesting in the section about Annie Moore being the first official emigrant at Ellis Island.

    “How Annie became the first official immigrant at Ellis Island is unclear. One story claims that officials had rushed her ahead of a male Austrian immigrant. Another claimed that a fellow passenger named Mike Tierney, in a “spark of Celtic galantry,” pulled the Austrian away from the gangplank by his collar, shouting “Ladies first,” and let young Annie pass.” (Page 58)

    Annie Moore, Mike Tierney mention in American Passage While 1892 is too late for the Mike Tierney mentioned here as Annie Moore’s helper to be my great-grandfather (who arrived about 1880), I had a look into old Mike and see if there might not be some connection. (It would be a long shot if there were, but seems an interesting story to follow up on in any case.)

    Unfortunately, my first look searching the manifest at Ellis Island doesn’t show any Tierneys on the same ship as Annie Moore. Guess I’ll need to page through the whole thing in case there was a transcription error and/or check other ships that may have landed that same day. Or, it the story does have some truth to it, could it have possibly been a worker from Ellis Island? Hmm.

    Update (14 Feb 2013): I saw a mention of the Annie Moore story again today and looked around the see if I could find the source of that “spark of Celtic gallantry” quote – I see the quote has been used a few times online without having a Mike Tierney mentioned, but I haven’t found a source for it more detailed than “According to a local cub reporter….” (Before anyone suggests it, American Passage does not list a source for this story either.)

    I’ve searched the Chronicling America newspapers around 1892 to see if it might appear, but no luck yet. Has anyone actually seen the source of this quote, or better yet, one with the mention of the gallant Mr. Tierney?

  • Jul26

    No Comments

    All the Way to America: The Story of a Big Italian Family and a Little Shovel

    Anyone who has spent time reading or watching television with young children over the last several years has likely encountered some of Dan Yaccarino’s work – Oswald the Octopus probably being his most well known work.

    Well, for the young and not yet budding genealogist he’s written a very nice book called “All the Way to America: The Story of a Big Italian Family and a Little Shovel.” My wife and kids found it in our library this week, and my 4 year old daughter and I enjoyed reading about the story of his family. Starting with his great-grandfather’s emigration from Italy all the way down to his family today, my daughter had fun following the changes in people and the handoff of the little shovel to each generation. Our 8 year old dove right in on his own and took his time with it as well.

    The story is simply told and his drawing is always soothing – I highly recommend it!
    You can view one of his videos on the book below and see more at the Yaccarino Studio.