NYR iOS app Android app More

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Megan Smolenyak

GET UPDATES FROM Megan Smolenyak

Summer Genealogy Reads

Posted: 06/29/11 05:09 PM ET

Though they rarely use the g-word, I've noticed a trend in recent years of books with a genealogical bent, and you probably won't be surprised to hear that I wouldn't object if this pattern were to become even more pronounced. I'm constantly telling anyone who will listen that there's no such thing as a boring family, and many writers are discovering that their own families are a surprisingly rich source of material.

With many about to embark on summer vacations, I thought now would be an appropriate time to share a few books I've read that share this family history element. Depending on your interests, maybe you'd like to add one of these to your lounging-by-the-pool, reading list.

Nothing Daunted: The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West
What happened when Dorothy and Ros, college-educated women from the East, moved to the wilds of Elkhead, Colorado to teach the children of homesteaders in 1916? As Dorothy Wickenden, granddaughter of the elder Dorothy discovered, everything from kidnapping to matrimony. Sparked by a packet of old letters found tucked in the back of a drawer, Wickenden dug deeper and eventually came to understand why this one year would prove to be so pivotal in both women's lives. Readers are apt to come away impressed by the adaptability of these fish-out-of-water friends, and perhaps a greater appreciation for just how easy we have it today.

The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance
Potter and ceramic artist, Edmund de Waal, ventured into the world of writing long enough to write an award-winning narrative about his extraordinary family that begins in Odessa and meanders around the globe. To give you a sense, four siblings born in Vienna would eventually scatter to England, Mexico, Japan and the U.S. But what makes this family history even more intriguing is de Waal's choice to unravel the tale by following that path of an unusual heirloom, a collection of 264 Japanese netsuke. With a family that's left too many traces rather than not enough, this curious focus is the perfect GPS to guide readers through what could have otherwise been an unwieldy tome.

The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century
Admittedly, this isn't a family history in the classic sense, but it does allow you to see how your forebears lived, provided they came from England. But even without having a single drop of English blood, I found myself fascinated by Ian Mortimer's detailed account of life in the 1300s. Though meticulously researched, he writes in a straightforward and engaging manner about food, religion, clothing, law, housing, health, character (for instance, those who didn't rein their children in with the occasional beating were frowned upon) and everything else you might have wondered about. As with Wickenden's Nothing Daunted, I defy you to read this and not be impressed by your ancestors.

I hope you'll pick one or two of these to get your summer reading started, and I'd welcome your genealogically-tinged suggestions to add to my own list.

 
 
 

Follow Megan Smolenyak on Twitter: www.twitter.com/megansmolenyak