• Books
  • Dec13

    4 Comments

    While researching my grandmother’s family, I thought it would be interesting (and important) to learn more about the religious order her sister Kathleen had joined in Ireland.

    Sister Attracta (the name she chose when taking her vows) is recalled fondly in our home via her letters to my parents and a New York visit in the 1960’s.

    Sister Attracta Photo CollageLast year I posted a photo collage of Sister Attracta , and over the last year I’ve learned a bit more about her from a cousin in Ireland as we compared research.

    After many years of service in China and Hong Kong, she retired to the Columban Sisters home in County Wicklow Ireland.

    I found a bit of history on the Columban Sisters site that begins…

    “The first group of Sisters set sail on September 13, 1926 from Cobh Harbour in County Cork. The 13,000 mile journey ahead of them would eventually take them to China. After many weeks travelling the Sisters finally arrived in China at a place called Hanyang.”

    The small family stories I’ve heard of her mention the sisters being taken captive during the war, and their status as doctors and nurses was the one thing that saved them from certain terrible experiences.

    Maybe a Second Spring - book coverThe history page references a book entitled “Maybe A Second Spring: The Story of the Missionary Sisters of St. Columban in China”, which they will send you for free if you pay shipping. (I purchased mine at Kennys.ie)

    I received the book last night and am looking forward to start reading it tonight – but I couldn’t resist a flip through right away. Near the beginning it describes “…dozens of (missionary) women would, in time, go to the heart of China. They would face a civil war, bandits, war lords, Communist Geurillas, and Japanese invaders, to say nothing of opium addicts, lepers, floods, famine, and plague.”

    Photo: Sister Mary Attracta with patient in NanchegAnd what do I find in the center section of the book? A cache of photos, including one of Sister Attracta! Quite exciting – I also see her mentioned in at least one section where the sisters are heading off to found the mission at Nancheng.

    Once again, reading is good.

  • Jul25

    1 Comment

    You Can Write Your Family HistoryYou Can Write Your Family History by Sharon Debartolo Carmack
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    This is a terrific book.

    Written in an easy, descriptive style it does not just tell you various ways of writing a Family History, but provides concrete examples, background tools and tasks and alternative sources to use.

    In short: The Why is important, but the How is essential. This book has them both.

    I borrowed this book from the library, but will be buying a copy for my shelf to keep as a touchstone and reference that is always at hand.
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  • 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

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    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.

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  • May2

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    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.

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