1500 Shenandoah Road
Alexandria, Virginia 22308
| Note to Users: The most recent book reviews are found at the top of the page. New reviews will be added every-other month. As new reviews are posted, the previous reviews move down the page to the "Book Review Archive." These book reviews are also available with the associated call number/book description (if applicable) in our Online Library Catalog.
The Pioneers—The Historic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West
By David McCullough (2019)
Simon and Schuster, NY
Call Number: Pending – recent addition to MVGS Library
Review by Janell Blue
Note: This is the MVGS Book Club selection for February
The Northwest Territory region was ceded to the United States by France in the Treaty of Paris of 1783. With that vast territory came the Ohio River and four of the five great lakes—important features for transportation and economic development. Ultimately, the territory was divided into five states - Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, plus a small part given to Minnesota. This book is about the initial settlement of that region.
When Congress made provisions for granting land, this new territory offered an option from America’s turbulent post-revolution economy and political turmoil. Thousands from New England would emigrate toward settlements along the Ohio river which ran 981-miles long from far-western Pennsylvania south of Lake Erie to its mouth on the Mississippi River in Illinois.
The author’s initial focus is on Manasseh Cutler, pastor of the First Congregational Church of Ipswich Hamlet in Massachusetts. Cutler, and later his son, was one of a group of Continental Army veterans who launched the initial plan to settle the Northwest Territory wilderness.
McCullough describes the setbacks and progress that the pioneers achieved. Despite all possible depravations and Indian difficulties, the settlement of Marietta would eventually provide safety and the supplies needed to facilitate inward migration and future settlements.
As in his other books, this Pulitzer Prize winning author takes the reader on a journey of interesting narrative and documented history. The Pioneers is a must read for any family historian researching early ancestors who came to the place known as the Ohio Settlement.
Where to access: Amazon.com in all formats (softback $18.00). Also, at the Alexandria and Fairfax County Libraries.
The Family Tree German Genealogy Guide: How To Trace Your Germanic Ancestry In Europe
by James Beidler
First Edition, March 2014 , 240 pages
Review by Gerry Ward
There are four parts and 14 chapters to Beidler’s book including an appendix and index. The author describes everything from understanding German script, to a list of civil record archives in Europe, church archives in Germany, US genealogy archives, libraries and German genealogical societies including historical publications and websites.
Part 1. Discusses how to link a family tree to German speaking nations.
Part 2. Background on the “old country”.
Part 3. About tracing your family in German speaking nations.
Part 4. Provides advanced sources and strategies.
Also included are sample letters for your requests to these archives. Use these as you correspond with repositories in the old country or Heimat as you search for records and legal documents.
There are excellent charts for the German Alphabet, months and numbers. Included is a fantastic immigration timeline with a very brief history,1626 through1987, showing German immigration to America and migration to the mid-west states once they arrive in America.
The author recommends:
- Reviewing all of the information you’ve already gathered from family stories, census records, marriage certificates, birth certificates, Bible records; anything that you already have in your possession.
- Always consider time and place and make a list of alternate spellings of your surname: for instance, Snyder has 9 different spellings that you could try.
- Try to find a signature of your ancestor this will bolster more proof of identification.
- Chapter 14 concludes with tips for when we get stuck: implement the “Fan Club” principle and try “localizing” the surname.
More tips with each chapter: try to learn a few dozen words (he shows how to pick up vocabulary, read Gothic printed font, and cursive script), read up on the territories lost after WWl and WWll, and find the land ceded to Poland and Russia.
Philadelphia was the primary port of entry for about 80% of German immigrants, followed by Baltimore and New York in the early part of the 1700s. Those port records provide more clues to track down.
I recommend this book and will purchase a copy because I have a Surface ancestor, mis-spelled from Zerfass in my maternal line who were here in Virginia circa 1760’s.
One thing I would wish for is LARGE PRINT.
BOOK REVIEW ARCHIVE
Compiled By Patrick G. Wardell, LTC, U.S. Army Ret.
Call Number: F229.5.W378
Heritage Books, Inc. (Paperback) 384 Pages.
First Printing: 1996
Review by Jayne Jester Reed Tuohig
Author Patrick Wardell provides an invaluable resource for family researchers of our generation --the 21st Century. The works compiled from over 2,600 microfiche reels, of the Revolutionary War and Bounty Land Warrants included genealogical “hidden mysteries” not found elsewhere. Oftentimes other indices or local /state data summaries of Revolutionary War soldiers only cite a name or a unit designation. Wardell reviews entire files to include letters and evidentiary materials that may have been submitted in pension applications or bounty award approvals.
The completeness of Wardell’s work is exceptional. Each Volume includes others who may have enlisted in other states, but were born, wed, or resided previously in Virginia. Where witnesses submitted additional clarification or proof, their name and relationship to the applicant family is included in the summary. Another example is the Index Section. Women’s married and, if known, maiden names are included in the Index! It also contains not only the soldier’s name, but associate’s names from estate papers or another soldier’s file. The author categorized these as “buried names.”
Family researchers could review this collection regardless of whether they had no Revolutionary War or Bounty Land Warrant soldiers in their family. By quickly referring to a Surname in the volume, several may be listed. As an example, I reviewed my “SMOOT” surname listing. I quickly discovered four Smoot soldier summaries with enough information to link to my Reed/Smoot family research.
Because the data recorded may contain wide-ranging family genealogical data, researchers could gain additional clues to their family—or better yet—solve a Brick Wall.
Where to Access
A Revolutionary War buff will certainly enjoy browsing through this collection, even if there are no ties to their particular family.
Call Number: Coming Soon to the MVGS Library
Review by Carol Campbell
This study was first published in 1909 and seeks to explain where and why people migrated along the Atlantic coast and major inland waterways. The migration patterns cover families from central and eastern Connecticut in 1720 to central and northern Vermont after 1760.
After the American Revolution, descendants began appearing in central and western New York. Matthews believes the expansion of settlements in and from New England are attributed to the role of religion and ideology, influence of land companies, colonial wars, selectmen, colonial legislatures and eventually the federal government shaping new towns and institutions. It was not uncommon for the settlements to replicate New England institutions and cultural practices.
The book provides many maps identifying settlements and detailed bibliographical notes at the end of each chapter. Not only do you get information on town histories, articles and multi-family works but the book chronicles similarities between the generations of “frontier seekers” as they expanded from the coast to the interior lands.
Call Number: Coming Soon to the MVGS Library
Review by Gerry Ward
Why am I trying to read a German Atlas not written in English? Some of the cities and towns have names we can recognize. But after many hours of reading with a magnifying glass, I had to ask a German friend from Bavaria for help— she had to look up stuff on her computer. Sigh! I don’t feel so bad now.
The book is full of more than a 100 color maps, from medieval time to the present. The beginning of each section includes extensive histories and timelines explaining events that affected boundary changes in each era. There are eight parts in the table of contents, from “Germanic Tribes”, “Nineteenth-Century Germany” to the “Twentieth-Century”. The last section of the book deals with “Modern-day Religious and Demographic Maps” which are helpful clues to finding the region in Germany to search if your family is Protestant or Catholic.
Since the author is a genealogist, this book was written with a family researcher in mind. It’s important to know your ancestor’s place of origin or at least the region or “Kreis” or district. This is not a book you can pick up and find your ancestors “Heimat” without having done some research into American databases first. The book includes an alphabetical index of villages. It helped me find the town of my Bavarian friend on the 2019 map and made a note of other divisions (States) surrounding this area.
If you love maps and history and have German speaking ancestors, this book will in your search for that little village where your great-great-great grandfather lived.
This is another of the great reference books in the MVGS Library that should be leveraged by those who think/know they had ancestors in Virginia from 1607 – 1624.
This 118-page, paperback book begins on May 13, 1607, when “three small English ships approached Jamestown Island in Virginia – the Susan Comfort, the Godspeed, and the Discovery.” It provides names of many (but not all) of those who arrived that day. It then delves into the many challenges these (and later arriving immigrants) had to overcome to 1) merely survive, and 2) to develop Jamestown.
The book also details the early expansion beyond Jamestown proper – into towns, plantations, settlements and communities up and down the James River. The author provides, on pages 32 – 33, an excellent diagram locating 46 of these areas.
Then, in perhaps the most valuable part of the book for researchers, the author provides a plethora of information on each of these 46 areas – naming names and providing vivid descriptions of the town, plantation, settlement or community. Several of my early ancestors are named.
To help readers get an idea of daily living in Virginia at the time, the author provides an Appendix with an itemized list of the cargo sent in the ship, Supply, which left England in September 1620, bound for the Berkeley Hundred.
The author also provides a reading list of 24 other books – should the researcher want to learn more about the early settlement of Virginia by the English.
The only criticism I have of this book is that it does not have an index. But, as I mentioned earlier, it is a 118-page paperback publication – so it is a quick read.
by Christine Rose
Call Number: CS2377.R67
Review by Caroline Brethauer
I won a copy of this 5th edition at a Fairfax GS event, which has saved the Mount Vernon GS Research Center copy from spinal damage due to what would have been my personal overuse. Perhaps it’s only my family which uses nicknames in unusual ways. As just one example, we have several Edwards, each of whom is known as Ted. Many people have told me over the years that Ted is a nickname for Theodore, not for Edward. I have found my relatives as Edward, Ed, Ted, and, yes, Theodore.
The main part of this book is two lists of male and female names. Nicknames and given names are in the same list, alphabetically. Caroline/Carolyn lists Callie, Carol, Carrie, Cassie, and Lynn as nicknames. The entry for Cassie refers to Caroline/Carolyn, Cassandra, and Catherine. If you’ve ever used an index with subindexes of alphabetical first names under last names, you may have missed your Alexander because he is listed under Sandy. Or, perhaps you thought you had a Sandra, but your ancestor is really Alexander.
One appendix is a list of truncated or superscripted names. Many of us have encountered Jno for John. Abn is Abner. Abr is Abraham. My favorite is Xer for Christopher.
The other appendices are lists of Dutch, Frisian, and Italian names; and a reprint of a 1969 article from an issue of American Genealogist about New England nicknames. “N” was often placed in front of a vowel, so Anne became Nancy, and Eleanor became Nell. “Patty” and “Patsy” were typical nicknames for Martha early in American history, but are now more commonly nicknames for Patricia.
Looking at nickname possibilities is useful to determine if two ancestors are the same person. Two records might list six family members but one name does not match. A will might list a wife, but the tombstone says a different name. At the same time, a given name could look like a nickname (think of Prince Harry). And check all the possibilities for what looks like a nickname; “Willie” may be William, or Wilton, or Wilfred, or Wilhelmina. And if you are concerned about descendants more than ancestors, buy a copy to use as a baby shower gift!
Mosby Vignettes, Volume VII,
by Don Hakenson & Gregg Dudding
First Printing, September 2003. 109 pages.
Call Number: CS71. M67
Review by Jayne Jester Tuohig
The authors teamed together to continue their collecting and writing of new facts about the movements of Colonel John Singleton Mosby while serving as a Confederate army cavalry battalion commander with his infamous “Old Mosby Gang.” The manuscript, titled Mosby Vignettes, Volume VII, has thirteen chapters featuring some of Mosby’s escapades, biographies of the Mosby Rangers of the Anderson family, and other previously unknown facts about key Mosby gang members. Stories with more details revealing skirmishes taking place at Alexandria or Fairfax sites such as White Church of Annandale, Virginia are told.
The authors titled each chapter with specific information which allows the reader to choose a particular section to review. If the reader is researching a certain soldier or location, the Index is quite helpful. Although there is not a chronological order to the chapters, the reader is free to review only specific events or personalities of the manuscript.
In some stories, the authors memorialize the bravery and heroism of the soldier and recognize how the local Fairfax or Warrenton home and land owners supported the Mosby Rangers’ missions. By providing additional eye-witness recollections of incidents or skirmishes of Mosby raids, they attempt “to set the records straight.” Some chapters include excerpts from Mosby’s own written reports, interviews, or diaries. Of interest, the manuscript’s Chapter 10 titled “Mosby's Rangers and the Seventeenth Virginia Infantry Units who supplied Mosby’s Rangers” presents biographies of 22 of the Mosby Rangers. Some included a photograph of the Ranger.
The manuscript is a result of extensive research and documentation of collections of Mosby Rangers family members’ letters, scrapbooks, and diaries. The scrapbooks and memorabilia reviewed by the authors included many newspaper articles printed and published right after the “War Between the States.” Numerous interviews were conducted with survivors’ families; and newspaper archives were scoured for articles relating to Mosby’s exploits and raids. Of special interest for researchers may be the families of key personalities of Mosby Rangers biographies. The authors researched soldier Civil War records including incident reports, official muster rolls, and pension records. This research, when combined with local newspaper articles published after a clash make the chapter rich with story details. (The authors acknowledged that many of the historical scrapbooks and newspaper article clippings researched did not have dates and newspapers identified.)
If a family researcher has found a relative who had a legend of being a “Mosby Ranger,” the Mosby Vignettes may be a source of additional information. Often the authors identify the local newspaper and heading of the article. However, there are few footnotes to reference specific documented sources for the reader to discern between the authors’ storytelling and a researched fact or quotation. Despite this, a Civil War buff will certainly enjoy reading the stories and tales found in Mosby Vignettes.
MVGS Call Number: CS16 .C768
Review by Caroline Brethauer
"We cannot believe everything we read in print, hear from relatives, or receive from other researchers." Possibly the most important set of words to the wise genealogist is this statement in Emily Croom's Unpuzzling your past. This book has been a mainstay of advice and case studies for many genealogists since its publication in 1995. (Croom has published two later editions, but neither adds much updating.) Written at a time when everything was done on paper, it seems quaint, but the principles of finding information and organizing our finds are the same. And there is a wealth of information here.
The book has excellent lists of questions to ask family members, lists of family sources to look for, and descriptions of different types of records and where they are housed. There is information about federal and state censuses, handwriting, naming trends, and much more. The section on how to organize your records and notes is, of course, all about paper files, and includes blank family group sheets and 5-generation charts. Whether your files are paper or digital, they need to be kept in such a way that you can find what you want. Croom’s method may work for you, or at least get you thinking about how to get and stay organized.
There is nothing about DNA research here, and very little about technology. With what we have access to now, we may never again need to scroll through rolls of microfilm to make a list of all the heads of households named White in Mississippi in 1850, as Croom did. But even when we are sure something is online, knowing where the originals are housed can help us determine that online location.
Croom wants us to establish a foundation of records and other information which we can organize into a useful reference to share and use as a basis for further research. Her book is a helpful guide which is quite useful, in spite of its age.
MVGS Call Number: CS66.A34.B87
Review by Paul B. Phelps
A Genealogist’s Guide to Discovering Your African-American Ancestors
by Franklin C. Smith and Emily A. Croom
Cincinnati: Betterway Books, 2003. 250 pages.
MVGS Call Number: CS66.A34.S65
Review by Paul B. Phelps
Both of these books provide good general advice and guidance for anybody who’s interested in researching and organizing information about their family history. Black and white genealogist alike need to be reminded to work backward, step by step, from known to unknown; to keep and update detailed records and timelines; to use oral history as well as libraries, cemeteries and online databases; and to record sources for the evidence that proves your conclusions. All of us need advice on resolving conflicts and discrepancies in our records, and how to start writing an actual family history.
Where these books add value is in their special emphasis on the impact of slavery and Jim Crow on the availability of state and local records that a white genealogist might take for granted, and on the special resources and strategies that can help a black genealogist move beyond 1870. Both provide case studies and reading lists for research before Emancipation. However, both books warn us that slave ancestry is advanced genealogy – we need to master the family’s history in the twentieth and late nineteenth century before attempting to go further back. Smith and Croom usefully add that it is necessary to learn as much as possible about the slaveholding family to learn more about those they enslaved.
Neither book discusses DNA research, which could be useful in differentiating two families with the same surname, and both books could use an update on computer genealogy. In general, Burroughs provides more detailed instructions on the basics of research and record-keeping, with useful tips and warnings about the predictable difficulties of faced by any genealogist. As a result, his book is more valuable for the beginning and intermediate researcher. By contrast, Smith and Croom are a bit more focused on the barriers inherent in black family history, with special emphasis on the vagaries of black surnames and case studies of how to use state and local sources to overcome gaps in the federal records. Theirs is a better guide for black family historians who are ready to take the next step in their research.
MVGS Call Number: CS66.A34.B87
Review by Jeff Welch
Do you know (or strongly suspect) the Virginia counties in which your ancestors lived during their lifetimes? If the answer is “yes”, then you need to visit our Research Center and look through the paperback book titled “Under Every Tree: A Guide to Finding Your Roots in Virginia”, written by Phyllis Brock Silber, and published in 2016 (F225.S55).
This 212-page book provides, county by county, information on where the researcher can go and/or who to contact, to find genealogical information on Virginia ancestors. We are talking about genealogical & historical societies, museums, public libraries, and the County Courthouse (she includes addresses, phone numbers, and the URL for their website [if they have one]). The book has an extensive section on the Library of Virginia and how best to organize yourself to do research there; it provides advice on how to do research at County Court Houses; it lists the counties with lost records – and what records have been lost; and toward the end, it has four pages of “additional resource sites in Virginia.”
I had ancestors in Virginia starting around 1614 and running until 1868, when my great-great grandparents Purcell, who lived in Wythe County at the time, headed out through the Cumberland Gap to Missouri – where both eventually died. This gives me 10 generations of Virginia ancestors to research.
In 2014, during one of my many research road trips, I was in the Goochland County Historical Society facility when in walked Phyllis Brock Silber. She was there gathering information on the facility for inclusion in her book – which she finished and got published in 2016. I ran into her again at a genealogy conference in Richmond in late 2016 (she was there selling her book), and I purchased an autographed copy – which is now dog-eared because I have used it in the planning of every research trip I have made around Virginia since then.
If you are researching Virginia ancestors, come to our Research Center and leverage our copy of this book – or purchase your own copy via Amazon.com. Either way, it will help you plan an effective research trip.
Call Number: F118.S39
Review by Jon Marie Pearson
New York Genealogical Research is an older book that was published in 1988, but you will feel like you hit the jackpot with the amount of information within the book. Time periods highlighted by Schweitzer include The Dutch period (1609-1664), English period (1664-1775), Revolutionary period (1763-1783), Early statehood (1783-1825), The National period (1825-1861), Civil War period (1861-1865). Schweitzer’s knowledge of history and resources available are broken down into categories that will help you to gain an idea of where to begin searching for specific information on your ancestors that settled or migrated through the state. Specific locations of documents and types of records are laid out in a way that you can easily understand what type of document you should be looking for and where to find that information. As I stated before, that due to the time period this book was published, you will need to reach out to specific repositories and locations to be sure that the information is still there, and to see if it may have been digitized. You will definitely want a sheet of paper nearby for making notes of documents and locations that you will want to look into. I definitely recommend taking a look at New York Genealogical Research if you are looking for New York ancestors.
MVGS Call Number: F229. N84
Review by Jeff Welch
Are you looking for deeds associated with your ancestors who lived in Virginia between 1623 and 1782? If the answer is “yes”, then you need to visit our Research Center and look through the eight-volume set of Cavaliers and Pioneers: Abstracts of Virginia Land Patents and Grants . Volume I covers the period of 1623 – 1666; Vol 2 (1666 – 1695), Vol 3 (1695 – 1732), Vol 4 (1732 – 1741), Vol 5 (1741 – 1749), Vol 6 (1749 – 1762), Vol 7 (1762 – 1776), and Vol 8 (1779 – 1782).
Each volume contains a complete by-name index for every deed contained therein – the sellers, the buyers, owners of adjacent lands, and if headrights were claimed in the purchase, those named as headrights. Also identified is the amount of land (in acres) sold/bought and the price, and the location of the land (usually defined by identifiable boundaries – such as other people’s lands, or rivers, or swamps, or roads).
Here is an example of how these books have helped me: my 9th great-grandfather Bartholomew Hoskins (sometimes Hopkins, Hopskins), was born in England ~1600. He came to Virginia in 1614/15 (at the age of 15) to seek his fortune. He survived the 1622 Jamestown Massacre and on 24 Feb 1624, he was living in Elizabeth City, on the East side of the Hampton River, in an area called Bucke Row. On 3 Nov 1624, he was granted 100 acres of land for being an Ancient Planter (that deed is noted in Volume I on page 7). Per that entry, the land was located “N. upon the backe river, S. upon the maine land & W. upon a creek dividing same from land of Peter Arundell, gent.” The index for Volume I shows 17 more entries for Bartholomew and several entries for several of his sons.
Call Number: CS22. G68
Review by Paul B. Phelps
The author, a university instructor of creative writing, says that this slim guide is intended for the genealogist or amateur family writer who wants to leave a historical record of his own family. He goes to great lengths to make the distinction between a short family narrative and a full-blown historical novel. Such novels are a mainstay of the Western cannon, but they are a dubious model for the beginning writer. The author gives useful advice on technique, theme, and the need for social and regional context. He even advises the writer to continue developing his narrative through revision after revision. Yet most of his examples (and frequent, extended excerpts) come from masterpieces of 19th and 20th century literature. The reader feels that he has attended a graduate seminar on comparative literature, rather than a writing workshop. And the final conclusion – that a “successful . . . family narrative requires total immersion in the character and period about which one is writing” – is hardly appropriate for the genealogist who hopes to transform a welter of facts into a modest narrative history. This is not the book for a beginner, who would be better served by friendlier guides to family history and simpler guides to writing well.