8 Things About Me*

*that you probably don’t need to know…

It’s meme time again, and this one’s an all about me meme.  I’ve been tagged by Thomas once again!  The Rules:

1. Each player starts with eight random fact/habits about themselves.

2. People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.

3. A the end of your blog post, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their name.

4. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged and to read your blog.

Here are 8 things you probably have no reason to know about me, but I hope you’re amused, fascinated, and/or generally not horrified by the “real” me:

  • 1. I hate tomatoes. I love pizza, and I eat tomato sauce on pasta.  Just no tomatoes, please.  Don’t even get me started on the horrors of ketchup.
  • 2. I once spent a lovely afternoon riding around with the German Army (Bundeswehr) on a tank, somewhere in the middle of a German wilderness that I did not know existed.  I have photos to prove it!
  • 3. My most unusual destination for a work/business trip has been the DMZ in Korea.
  • 4. I once had tea with Betsy Blair in her home (surely you remember the movie Marty).  The moment was captured on my camera, and the photographer was Stephen Frears.  He knows how to direct films really well, but he was mystified by how to operate my camera.
  • 5. I hate loud noise.
  • 6. Like Jasia, I’ve taken tap lessons.
  • 7. I absolutely adore palm trees.
  • 8. I successfully completed the United States Marine Corps obstacle course in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii.  But I didn’t quite complete it the way the recruits are required to do.  It wasn’t done in the allotted time, and I had the help of others literally pushing and pulling me through it.  But, we did it, and it was truly a team effort.  And I couldn’t lift my arms for a week.

As for tagging…when we do this as a “tag four” game, it’s nearly impossible to find four bloggers that haven’t already been tagged.  I officially give up with finding eight un-tagged individuals.  If you haven’t played yet, please do!

While I’m playing tag, I’ll double-post and answer Randy’s game from Saturday night.  The rules:
* Grab the book nearest you. Right now.
* Turn to page 56.
* Find the fifth sentence.
* Post that sentence along with these instructions in a note to your blog (or a comment to this blog).

My answer:

And yet some diligent little cell of the brain, resolutely doing guard duty while the others were resting, must have been listening.

Source: Finney, Jack.  “The Woodrow Wilson Dime.” 3 by Finney. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1987. 56.

Science Fiction for Genealogists

One of the great loves of my life has been science fiction.  After just one sentence, I can guarantee that about a quarter to a third of you readers are nodding your head in agreement, or saying, “I knew I liked her for a reason!”  But the rest of you probably groaned – that is, assuming you didn’t skip the post totally based on the title alone.  To all of you groaners – this post’s for you!

Many people dislike science fiction (sf) because their image of it consists of spaceships, aliens, and other planets.  But sf is much more than just those topics, and its range is so broad that there is truly something for everyone – even genealogists.  One category of science fiction that is sure to please genealogists is time travel.  Fantastic?  Unrealistic?  Yes, that’s why it’s called fiction.  But, boy, is it fun! Don’t we travel back in time every time we search through old documents to find our ancestors?  Or look at old photographs trying to imagine what life was really like back then?  When I read some sf authors, especially Jack Finney, I feel as though I am walking through the doors of the Virtual Dime Museum or entering the past by stepping into a Shades of the Departed photograph.  Here are my picks for the best science fiction stories for genealogists.

The Love Letter ~ by Jack Finney

This is my favorite short story by Jack Finney, whose most famous work is the novel Time and Again about travel to 19th Century New York.  Finney’s love and respect for the past permeates this story as well, which was written in 1959 and takes place in 1962.  A young man named Jake buys an antique desk, one that is full of pigeonholes and little drawers.  One night he examines his find more closely and finds a hidden compartment behind one of the drawers.  There he finds some old writing paper, envelopes, and a bottle of ink.  But there is also a letter – a love letter.

The letter is dated 1882 and a young woman, Helen, laments her impending marriage by writing with longing to her “Dearest”, who exists only in her mind.  “I speak with you in my mind and heart: would you existed outside of them!”

Touched by this woman’s words from so long ago, Jake is moved to write in response.

The night is a strange time when you’re alone in it, the rest of the world asleep.  If I’d found that letter in the daytime I’d have smiled and shown it to a few friends, then forgotten it.  But alone here now, window partly open, a cool late-at-night freshness stirring the quiet air, it was impossible to think of the girl who had written this letter as a very old lady or maybe long since dead.  As I read her words, she seemed real and alive to me, sitting, or so I pictured her, pen in hand…  And my heart went out to her as I stared down at her secret hopeless appeal against the world and time she lived in.

Jake writes a short note telling Helen that she’s a girl he could like.  “Do the best you can,” he writes, “in the time and place you are.”  Feeling satisfied with his late-night amusement, he suddenly feels moved to mail the letter.  He finds a vintage stamp from his childhood collection, and walks to an old post office that had been there since Helen’s time – he even stops at the old house that Helen wrote from, though in the present is suffers from neglect and age.  He mails the letter, “feeling foolish but at the same time secretly pleased.”

About a week later, Jake is working at his desk late at night when he thinks of Helen.  He realizes that there are two other desk drawers – do they have hidden compartments as well?  Finney writes that “the night is a strange time” and even though the city of New York had changed considerably over the decades, there are still “little islands – isolated remnants of the way things once were” and “the boundary between here and then wavers.”  Remarkably, Jake finds another letter in the second drawer – addressed to him!  By using the stationary, ink, stamps, and post office of Helen’s time, he feels that it crossed that boundary between “here and then”.  Helen is desparate to know who he is, and how he knew of her thoughts.

Jake responds again in the same way, but this time he tells her that he is writing from 1962.  He tells her he has fallen in love with her, but he can’t explain what was happening.  He realizes there is one drawer left that he has not opened, and because he already discovered the contents of the first two, that can not be changed.  Since he hasn’t opened the third drawer, there is one more chance for Helen to speak to him.

Mailing the letter in the same way, he nervously waits a week.  Opening the final hidden compartment, he finds no letter – but a photograph of Helen.  Across the bottom, she writes “I will never forget.”

A long time later, Jake realizes there was one final way for Helen to communicate with him over time.  Frankly, any genealogist would have figured this out sooner, but Jake apparently wasn’t into genealogy back in 1962!  I won’t spoil the ending and Helen’s final message to Jake, but it is a sweet ending to a bittersweet and magical love story.

What does “The Love Letter” have to do with genealogy?  At the end, Jake uses records we use daily to receive his final message.  But I chose this story because of the interaction between the past and the present.  As genealogists, we “travel” to the past, at least in our minds, when we do our research.  I’m sure many of us would like the persons we research to reach out from the past to communicate with us!  “The Love Letter” may not seem very science fiction-like, but if you have ever wondered about the past after seeing a document, photograph, or antique, you will enjoy this trip.

Second Chance ~ by Jack Finney

Most of Finney’s short stories involve some blurring of the lines between the past and the present, which is the attraction for genealogists.  Another good example of this is his story “Second Chance”.  A young man in 1956 has a penchant for “classic” cars, and he spends most of his time restoring a 1923 Jordan Playboy that was nearly demolished in an accident in which its occupants were killed.  He takes great care to restore the car by using original materials instead of replacing old parts with newer, modern ones.  He finally finishes and takes the car out for a drive.  He takes an old road into town, one that had been there before the highway was built, and he amuses himself by singing old songs from the 1920s and enjoying the ride.  He begins to think he is in the 1920s…

But my car and I–the way I felt about it, anyway–were almost rejected that night, by the time I live in.  And so there in my Jordan, just as it was the year it was new, with nothing about me from another time, the old ’23 tags on my car, moving along a highway whose very oil spots belonged to that year–well, I think that for a few moments, all the chains hanging slack, we were free on the surface of Time.  And that moving along that old highway through the summer evening, we simply drifted — into the time my Jordan belonged in.

When he reaches town he realizes that he had somehow driven back in time, and he parks the car to marvel at the old sights.  But his car is stolen, and he nearly gets killed as the thief races by him.  After walking around town that night, he finds himself back in his own time in the morning – without his cherished car.

Time passes, and the young man falls in love.  It just so happens that the girl’s father enjoys old cars, too.  In fact, he has a 1923 Jordan Playboy!  The narrator realizes it is the car he restored once before, and after hearing the father’s tale he realizes that his trip back in time saved that man’s life.  By changing the past without even realizing it, he made it possible to meet the woman he now loved.

“Second Chance” is an easy-going story with a nice twist at the end.  While it doesn’t seem like “science fiction”, any story with some sort of time travel is automatically part of the genre.  Finney’s sort of time travel rarely involves machines, but instead is brought about by desire and love for the past.  If the lines between the past and the present were truly flexible, I’m sure many a genealogist would jump at the chance to take a peak!

Unto the Fourth Generation ~ Isaac Asimov

One of the undisputed kings of the science fiction genre is Isaac Asimov.  Indeed, while he is most known for science fiction literature, Asimov should be remembered as one of the most prolific writers of all time, and the most eclectic.  He wrote every day, and the end result was hundreds of books ranging from sf to humor and mysteries to non-fiction works on science, religion, and history.  His science fiction covered all sub-genres like alien worlds and robots, with an occasional journey into time travel.  If traditional sf subjects don’t turn you off, by all means read the story that I consider to be Asimov’s best – “Nightfall”.  But, for my genealogist-audience, I wish to highlight a more unusual work in the Asimov canon – “Unto the Fourth Generation”.

Sam Marten is making his way across New York City for an important work appointment.  But with every move he makes, he encounters some variation of the same surname.  It appears in signs, trucks, businesses, and the address directory of the building he enters. Lewkowitz, Lafkowitz, Lefkowicz.  They don’t sound right, he thinks, but he doesn’t know why.  All of these coincidental encounters with the strange name makes him restless; his work meeting does not go well. He now feels haunted by these sightings of the variations of this unknown name. Sam walks, running at times, seemingly guided by unknown hands, to a park.

And there on a bench was an old man; the only man in the desolate park.  He wore a dark felt cap, with a visor shading his eyes.  From underneath it, tufts of gray hair protruded.  His grizzled beard reached the uppermost button of his rough jacket.  His old trousers were patched, and a strip of burlap was wrapped about each worn and shapeless shoe.

Marten stopped.  It was difficult to breathe.  He could only say one word and he used it to ask his question: “Levkovich?”

The old man rises and greets Sam Marten by name.  He has been looking for him.  Marten intuitively knows this old man is named Phinehas Levkovich, and he asks why they are there.  The man answers, “because I prayed.”  The old man’s daughter left for America with her family.  He grew old, and after his sons died he longed to see if his daughter had any sons “in whom [his] soul might yet live and not die.”  The man is given two hours to find the first son born of his daughter’s line in America.  “My daughter’s daughter’s daughter’s son, have I found you, then, amidst the splendor of the city?”

Sam asks his great-great grandfather for his blessing, one to be passed on to his future sons.  The old man says he can go in peace now that he has laid eyes on him, and he disappears.  Suddenly, “there was an instant of renewing motion” and Sam finds himself back where the story begins earlier in the day.  “Somehow he knew that all would be well with him.  Somehow, as never before, he knew…”

One of the more interesting aspects of this story is how it came about.  Asimov’s editor remarked that he had been seeing various signs with the name, and he asked if Isaac could write a story about it.  When it was published in April 1959 in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, the main character was not affected by the “meeting” with his ancestor.  Afterwards, a fan was talking to Asimov when his editor asked her what she thought of the story.  Her opinion was that the meeting should have affected Sam in some way.  When the story was re-published in one of Asimov’s story collections, the ending had changed.  And the fan? Years later she became Asimov’s wife, Janet!

“Unto the Fourth Generation” is a rather unusual story, but one that a genealogist might like.  Did the meeting really take place since the great-great grandfather had died years before?  Why did Sam go back in time a few hours to the beginning of his day?  Does it matter?  What matters is his sudden feeling of confidence and well-being.  Have you ever suddenly felt a calming come over you?  Or feel loved?  Perhaps we’re being blessed by our great-great grandfather.  The story works because of the emotion showed by both the old man and his descendant, and the meaningfulness of their meeting.

Who’s Your Grandaddy? ~ The Grandfather Paradox

Time travel stories can get a little confusing, and there is actually an issue known in the genre of science fiction as the “Grandfather Paradox”.  If a time traveler goes back in time and accidentally kills his own grandfather (or any other ancestor) before children are born, wouldn’t the time traveler cease to exist because he never would have been born?  There are two short stories by one of the masters of science fiction, Robert A. Heinlein, that seem to get around this paradox.  I’m reluctant to write about them, however.  Even though I love Heinlein’s work, these two stories give me a headache!

The first is called “All You Zombies” and was written in 1959. A “temporal agent” goes back in time to recruit a young writer.  The agent plays the role of a bartender, and the writer tells his life story.  The agent/bartender convinces the writer that if he could go into the past, he could change many of the troubled events he described. He goes back to the time of his birth, but…things get a little complicated.  It seems as though his past was more troubled than he originally thought.  Can you be your own ancestor?  Let’s just say that the plot is complicated and includes a sex change operation.  It also has a fair amount of humor, given the hilarity of the situation the main character finds himself (herself?) in.  Many years before this story, Heinlein used a similar theme in “By His Bootstraps,” published in 1941. Let the lesson be “beware of time travelers” because it could be your future self tricking you!

A story called “Dear Charles” by Murray Leinster, written in 1953, also touches on the theme, but without the confusing paradox.  In the 34th Century, Charles receives a letter that was written in the 20th Century by his own 52nd great-grandfather!  Charles’ ancestor explains that a series of unfortuanate events are about to unfold, but he urges him not to try to stop them.  The ancestor is about to appear, through a time machine from the past, and he will take Charles’ fiance Ginny back with him.  As it turns out, Ginny is actually Charles’ 52nd great-grandmother!

And then I smashed Professor Hadley’s time-transporter. I stamped on it, while Joe gazed stupidly at Ginny. I had reason to smash the device. Naturally! If anybody else traveled in time, they might not be as smart as I am, or their descendants might not be as dumb as you, Charles. Something might get messed up. Somebody might marry the wrong person somewhere in the next fourteen centuries, and Ginny might not get born. I wouldn’t risk that!

This story is more light-hearted, and it is told entirely in the form of the letter that the ancestor sends to Charles.  I think we’d all like to receive a personal letter from an ancestor, but I doubt anyone would be happy to find out that their betrothed is actually their own ancestor!

That’s a quick peek into the world of science fiction from a genealogist’s perspective!  My goal was to “convert” someone who didn’t think they liked science fiction at all into someone who is willing to take a closer look, perhaps at one of the authors I mentioned.  Please let me know if I accomplished my goal!  And for my fellow science fiction fans out there – and I know there are several genea-bloggers who belong to that group – please add some of your own ideas in the comments!  What sf stories do you think a genealogist would love?


  • Asimov, Isaac.  “Unto the Fourth Generation.”  The Complete Stories, Volume I. New York: Doubleday, 1990.  575-581.
  • Finney, Jack. “Second Chance.” About Time: 12 Short Stories.  New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc., 1998. 183-202.
  • Finney, Jack.  “The Love Letter.”  Tales in Time.  Edited by Peter Crowther.  Clarkston, GA: White Wolf Publishing, 1997. 41-55.
  • Heinlein, Robert A.  “–All You Zombies–.” Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine, March, 1959. Available online at <http://ieng9.ucsd.edu/~mfedder/zombies.html&gt;
  • Leinster, Murray.  “Dear Charles.” A Logic Named Joe.  Baen Publishing, June 2005.  Available online at <http://www.webscription.net/10.1125/Baen/0743499107/0743499107___3.htm&gt;

Push Not the River: An Interview with James C. Martin

Historical fiction does not merely tell a good story – the reader also learns about the time and place of the novel’s events.  In conclusion of What’s Past is Prologue’s celebration of Polish-American Heritage Month, I can think of no finer novel to highlight than Push Not the River by James Conroyd Martin.  Genealogists will be delighted to learn that the novel is based on an ancestor’s diary!

As the Polish proverb says, “Push not the river; it will flow on its own accord.”  That sentiment is a perfect reflection on the sweeping events that occurred in Poland in the late 1700’s, the setting of the novel.  Anna Maria Berezowska is a 17-year-old countess whose life is changed by a series of tragic events.  The tumultuous time in Anna’s life coincides with an equally revolutionary time in Poland’s history: the Partitions and the Third of May Constitution.

During this time period, from 1772 to 1794, Poland was repeatedly divided – or “partitioned” – by its neighbors Prussia, Austria, and Russia.  The Third of May Constitution was modeled on the United States Constitution and was the first democratic constitution in Europe.  For the first time, some of the rights of the nobility were decreased, putting them on equal footing with the “middle class” townspeople.  The constitution also provided protection for the peasant serfs – another first.  Although the constitution was only in effect for a short time, its effect was revolutionary as Poland’s restless neighbors fought against these ideas which threatened their power.

These dramatic historical events provide the backdrop for Push Not the River.  Because of the divided loyalties of the time, it is a rich setting.  Anna’s life is affected by these events in multiple ways.  Her life as a noblewomen changes with the political events, and her love for patriot Jan is threatened by both the ensuing insurrection and her conniving cousin Zofia.

As a novel, this book is well worth reading if you enjoy romance, drama, history, or a mix of all.  From a historical perspective, readers will learn much about Poland’s history and its people.  But the most amazing fact of all is that the story is based on a true story!  James Conroyd Martin’s friend, John Stelnicki, is a descendant of the real-life Anna Maria Berezowska.  Anna kept a diary during the years of these events, and the diary is the basis for the plot of the novel. To quote from the author’s own website, “Vivid, romantic, and thrillingly paced, Push Not the River paints the emotional and unforgettable story of the metamorphosis of a nation—and of a proud and resilient young heroine.

I was delighted when I found out that James wrote a sequel entitled Against a Crimson Sky.  This novel explores the Napoleonic era in Poland and the loyalties that continued to divide Poland.  The story culminates with the dramatic but doomed 1812 march into Russia.  Ultimately, it is a story of the love that Anna and Jan have for each other as well as their country.

Both of these novels made me an immediate fan of author James Conroyd Martin.  He graciously agreed to chat about these novels, their origin, and what’s next in his writing future.  And, he also offers some advice to those genealogists who want to write about their ancestors!

Push Not the River was based on your friend’s ancestor’s diary recounting events in her life.  How many of the events in the novel were presented in the diary as real-life events, and how many events did you “fill in” based on the historical events of that time?

I’m often asked what events are true-to-life right from the diary and what things I have added to the story.  For the most part the big events in each of the six parts are absolutely faithful to Anna’s account.  These include the rape, attempted murder by her husband, her being kept by the clan, Zofia’s scheming, her imprisonment by her (real cousin, not adoped one), and escape from the Russians across the bridge. I had to deepen characterization, bring in historical information that Anna assumed people would know, and help an occasional character exit the story for closure.  I also had to imagine the short chapters from Jan’s point of view.  Push Not the River has been optioned for film.  I’m not buying a tux yet, as the producer needs to secure funding. And in this economy!

Was Against a Crimson Sky based on events in the diary as well?

Push Not the River ends just where the diary ended. Anna was running out of pages and her life was becoming more settled so she hoped not to need the therapy of the diary.  When St. Martin’s Press asked for a sequel, I took the characters I knew so well and placed them into the milieu of the Napoleonic era.

I was happy to see that you’re planning a third book based on these characters called The Warsaw Conspiracy.  What can we expect, and when will it be published?

The Warsaw Conspiracy, the final book in my trilogy,  continues with the familiar characters and their children; however, this will be a bit of a political thriller revolving around the attempted kidnapping of the Russian Grand Duke, brother to the Czar, who had charge of Poland.

Is your own ancestry Polish as well?

I’m Irish and Norwegian, but I certainly feel I’m an honorary Pole. On November 9th I’ll accept a second major Polish award, this one from Wisconsin’s Polish American Congress. Last year I received a gold medal from The American Institute of Polish Culture. Maybe I should get busy with my own lineage!

Recently genealogy-bloggers have been discussing “creative nonfiction” as a technique in writing about their ancestors’ lives.  This is where you take the factual events of an ancestor’s life and bring it to life using literary techniques found in fiction.  To some extent, this is what you’ve done – although you added fictional material to flesh out the story line, and your intent was to create fiction.  Do you have any advice for genealogists who want to use the “creative nonfiction” techniques?

Absolutely! I would just say, Go for it!  A good story will always find its way in the world.


Thanks, Jim!  I can’t wait to read the third book!  For more information on James C. Martin and his novels, including some excerpts and a “video trailer” of Push Not the River, visit his website at http://jamescmartin.com.

[Written for the Polish History & Culture Challenge.]

Polish Literature

As an English major in both college and grad school, I’ve read a fair amount of literature.  But in my entire academic life I never encountered a Polish author on the syllabus other than Joseph Conrad, who, though Polish, wrote in English and can be found in English lit books as opposed to “World” lit.  I became interested in the subject partly because of my heritage, but also thanks to a penpal relationship with a young Polish college student.  The third thing that led me to learn more was when I began to learn about the life of a Polish man I greatly admire…you could say that Pope John Paul II led me to discover Polish literature!  In honor of Polish-American Heritage Month I thought I would briefly highlight some of the great authors that have shaped Poland’s cultural life, and in a separate post I will write more about John Paul’s early life, how Polish culture affected his views, and the time we met.

Please note that Poland’s history is long and full, and its literature is no exception.  In this post, I will merely highlight just a few of the many talented authors; this is by no means complete.  As such, I’m skipping over hundreds of years worth of works until arriving at the period known as “Polish Romanticism”.    Throughout 19th Century Europe, literature reflected the revolutionary ideals of the time. But while most of these writers wanted to break away from the past, Poland’s writers suggested returning to it, for they felt that something had been lost and needed to be reclaimed. For most of the writers, the “something” was the country’s Catholic values.  With the Romantics, history took on a spiritual purpose.

One of the most famous of the authors from this period of Polish literature is Henryk Sienkiewicz (1846-1916).  He is perhaps best known for what is commonly called “The Trilogy” – a series of three histoical novels about events from the 17th Century Polish-Lituanian Commonwealth.  The three titles are With Fire and Sword, The Deluge, and Fire in the Steppe.  Each dealt with Polish history: the Cossack rebellion, the Swedish invasion, and wars with the Ottoman Empire.  The novels are sweeping in scope and quite lengthy, but Sienkiewicz was a gifted writer so the size of the novel is irrelevant. One of Sienkiewicz’s most popular novels is Quo Vadis, which was another historical novel.  This one, however, takes place in Rome during Nero’s reign and involves a star-crossed romance between a Christian woman and a pagan Roman patrician.  While the Trilogy is still on my “to be read” list, I had the pleasure of reading Quo Vadis, and it is truly a great story.  You may recogize the name from the 1951 Hollywood movie, which was based on the novel.  The quality of his work is evident by the honor he received in 1905 when he won the Nobel Prize for achievement in literature.  If you enjoy historical sagas, you will enjoy Sienkiewicz!

Another of Poland’s literary greats is Adam Mickiewicz (1789-1855).  Mickiewicz was primarily a poet, but he also wrote plays.  His most famous work is Pan Tadeusz, an epic poem that takes place during the period of the partitions.  The work is so famous in Poland that it is considered to be the national epic and it is required reading in schools.  Mickiewicz was the driving force of the Polish Romantic movement, and he believed in the redemptive quality of suffering and that Poland’s destiny would emerge from the country’s brokenness (as the country did not exist as a country after the partitions). He was a patriot more than a writer, and he left his writing career at its prime to devote the rest of his life to politics.  I found a good page that not only highlights his writing, but also his politics and his family history.

Juliusz Słowacki (1809-1849) was another poet and playwright who deeply influenced Polish culture.  He was influenced himself by Byron and Shakespeare, and he shared the belief that Poland’s suffering would one day end.  I was fascinated to learn that in 1848 he wrote a beautiful poem about a future “Slavic Pope” who will be a “brother to all mankind” and lead all of humanity beyond suffering.  I’m not certain that this is an exact translation from the Polish, but the only English text I found of the poem is at this blog.  Rather prophetic…

One of my favorite authors that I encountered in college was Joseph Conrad (1857-1924).  I was surprised to learn that his real name was Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski, he was born in Poland, and he learned English when he was an adult.  The novels I read were not translations from Polish, but written in English.  His prose is beautiful, and I can not fathom how talented a writer you have to be to write in a language that is not your “first”.  English was actually his third language, after Polish and French.  Yet his prose flows so fluidly, so poetically, that I can only wonder what he would have produced in his native tongue.  In The External Solitary by Gillon, Conrad is quoted as saying that Polish literature is in “too high esteem to introduce it to my poor writing.”  Among his many novels, the most famous are Lord Jim, Heart of Darkness, Nostromo, and The Secret Agent.  One interesting aspect of his work is his focus on the themes of loyalty, fidelity, and self-sacrifice, which all relate to his Polish heritage and the fate of his homeland.  The theme of being set apart in exile or being solitary from the rest of the world also permeates his work, perhaps due to his own isolation as a Pole living away from his country.

I copied this quote into my notebook when I was in college, and although it is merely from a letter Conrad wrote to a friend, it offers a fine glimpse of his talent:

…old Father Time, always diligent in his business, has put his eraser over many men, things, and memories: yet I defy him to obliterate from my mind and heart the recollection of the kindness you and yours have shown to a stranger, on the strength of a distant national connection.  I fear I have not expressed adequately to your wife and yourself all my gratitude: I do not pretend to do so now, for in my case when the heart is full the words are scarce, and the more so the more intense the feeling I wish to express.

These are only four of the many famous Polish authors in the history of Polish literature.  Jumping ahead to modern times, perhaps you are familiar with the names of the Nobel-prize-winning poet Czesław Miłosz or the science fiction writer Stanisław Lem.  One of my favorite Polish poets is none other than Karol Wojtyła, the nan more commonly known as Pope John Paul II.  He wrote poetry and dramatic works both before and after he became a priest and pope.   I will share one of his poems, one that is actually genealogy-related, in my next post.

[Written for the Polish History & Culture Challenge.]

Distracted By Books

The illustrious footnoteMaven has presented a distraction-challenge!  As you can tell by my recent lack of posts, I need no help whatsoever in getting distracted, especially if the distraction involves books.  This challenge was to write your life story from the spines of the books in your collection.  For many this would be hard, but I own a lot of books!  What was hard was choosing which titles to use.  Although this is only semi-related to genealogy (it is my autobiography, so to speak), I have little else prepared to post today and therefore offer my distraction, er, make that my life story in books…

My Past

My Past

My Present

My Present

My Future

My Future

Here’s a counter-challenge…are you able to present a photo of your life story by using the titles of music CDs or albums in your collection?

10 Essential Books in My Genealogical Library

The 56th Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy asks us to tell about the ten books we can’t do without.  I thought this would be hard at first for two reasons.  First, when I first decided to learn how to research my roots in 1989, my friend Marie and I had no idea how to go about it.  So, we headed straight for the library and came out with an armful of books.  Those basic “how to” books taught us how to get started, and neither of us have stopped since.  But, because I got many of these books from the library, I wasn’t sure I had many genealogy-related books in my personal library.  Second, much of the specific information I need to look up today related to genealogy I find online – something that you couldn’t do in 1989.  Despite these two reasons, I went to my library shelves and was happy to find that I had at least ten books that are worthy of praise.  Hopefully you’ll find at least one interesting enough to add it to your own library.  My ten essential books are:

1.  The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy, edited by Arlene Eakle and Johni Cerny (Ancestry Publishing, Salt Lake City, UT, 1984).  If you’re looking for the most up-to-date genealogical resource book, this won’t be it.  But for a beginner in 1989, this 700+ page book taught me almost everything I needed to know on all aspects of genealogy from “major record sources” to resources unique to different ethnic groups.  Appendices provided the kind of information we all google daily, like addresses on societies, archives, and libraries in every state.  Apparently there is now a Third Edition with different editors (but the same title) that was published in 1996.  If you’re a beginner, I highly recommend it.  You will consult it many times over and it’s well worth the hefty cost.

2.  Polish Roots by Rosemary A. Chorzempa (Genealogical Publishing Co. Inc., Baltimore, MD, 1993).  Again, this was one of the first books I acquired when I began my genealogical research.  It contains all of the basics from where to start in the United States to what’s available in Poland.  There are also chapters on Polish Genealogical Societies, geographic areas of Poland, surnames, and the Polish language.  According to Amazon.com, this book was updated in 2000.

3.  If I Can, You Can Decipher Germanic Records by Edna M. Bentz (Self-published, San Diego, CA, 1982).  Simply put, I doubt that I could have ever found a name in handwritten German church records without first devouring this book.  What makes it unique is that it has actual samples of what the handwriting styles look like instead of merely a list of German to English translations of common words found in the records.  When a German “B” resembles a “L” and an “e” looks like our “r”, do you really think I could have traced my Bergmeister ancestors without this book?

4.  Germanic Genealogy, Second Edition by Edward R. Brandt, Ph.D., Mary Bellingham, Kent Cutkomp, Kermit Frye, Patricia A. Lowe (Germanic Genealogical Society, St. Paul, MN, 1997).  This is another compendium of where to find basic info, only specific to Germanic peoples.  It has everything from how to find the immigrant’s place of origin to place names and more.  There are now newer books out there, but this one is still in print.

5. Following the Paper Trail: A Multilingual Translation Guide by Jonathan D. Shea and William F. Hoffman (Avotaynu, Inc. Teaneck, NJ, 1994).  This bookoffers help with German, Swedish, French, Italian, Latin, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish, Czech, Polish, Russian, Hungarian, and Lithuanian genealogical records.  Talk about being worth it – you won’t get that much help for the money anywhere else!

6. In Their Words: A Genealogist’s Translation Guide to Polish, German, Latin, and Russian DocumentsVolume I: Polish by Jonathan D. Shea and William F. Hoffman (Language & Lineage Press, New Britain, CT, 2000).  Jonathan and Fred do it again, only bigger and better. If you are researching documents in these languages, this guide is indispensable with nearly 400 pages of  record samples, translations, and explanations about the Polish language and handwriting.  Only native Poles can decipher Polish records without the help that’s found in this book!

7.  Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings, Second Edition by William F. Hoffman (Polish Genealogical Society of America, Chicago, IL, 1997).  I’ve extolled “Fred” Hoffman recently in my 4-part interview.  If you have Polish ancestry and you want to know anything about your surnames, you need this book for the clues about what the names mean and where they may have originated.

8. First Names of the Polish Commonwealth: Origins and Meanings by William F. Hoffman and George W. Helon (Polish Genealogical Society of America, Chicago, IL, 1998).  “Polish” first names come from many different languages; this book sorts it all out and carefully explains their origins and meanings.

9.  Häuserchronik der Stadt Pfaffenhofen a.d. Ilm by Heinrich Streidl (W. Ludwig Verlag, Pfaffenhofen, 1982).  One of my earlier posts describes a häuserchronik as a city directory listed by street address that happens to include personal information such as occupations, spouses, and deed transactions.  This book was given to me on my first visit to my great-grandparents’ hometown, and I quickly went back a few generations with the information it contained.  If you have German ancestry, read my post noted above to see where to find out if your town has one of these books available.

10.  Stadt Pfaffenhofen a.d. Ilm by Heinrich Streidl (W. Ludwig Verlag, Pfaffenhofen, 1979).  This is a 400+ page history book about my great-grandparents’ town.  It’s in German, which I can’t read at all.  But, it doesn’t stop me from trying!

Those are my top ten “essential” genealogy books in addition to a very detailed atlas of Poland and several dictionaries (English, Latin, German, and Polish).  As I said, I find a lot of information these days online.  But, I’ll always need books.  On my “to buy” list are Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace by Elizabeth Shown Mills and In Their Words: A Genealogist’s Translation Guide to Polish, German, Latin, and Russian Documents, Volume III: Latin by Jonathan D. Shea and William F. Hoffman which may be published later this year (read Fred Hoffman’s answer on what we can expect to see here).  I’m also looking for more local history books on Northeast Philadelphia where I spent most of my life.

[Written for the 56th Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: 10 Essential Books in My Genealogy Library.]

Interview with William F. Hoffman: Part 1 – Encountering Polish Names

This week, What’s Past is Prologue is delighted to host an interview with author William F. Hoffman.  Those readers with Polish heritage are probably thinking “Cool!” while those without may be asking “Who?”  William “Fred” Hoffman is the author or co-author of several key works that are highly useful to genealogists.  Two of his books deal primarily with names and surnames:

  • Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings (Second Edition) was published by the Polish Genealogical Society of America (PGSA) in 1997 and remains the premier work on Polish surnames (the first edition was published in 1993).  If you have a Polish or Eastern European name in your ancestry, this is the work that will offer some clues as to what the name means and where it may have originated.
  • First Names of the Polish Commonwealth: Origins and Meanings was co-authored with George W. Helon and published by the PGSA in 1998.  “Polish” first names come from many different languages; this book sorts it all out and carefully explains their origins and meanings.

Fred isn’t just known as a “name” expert though…he’s also an expert in translating genealogical documents!  He has co-authored several books with Jonathan D. Shea including

  • Following the Paper Trail: A Multilingual Translation Guide offers help with German, Swedish, French, Italian, Latin, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish, Czech, Polish, Russian, Hungarian, and Lithuanian.
  • In Their Words: A Genealogist’s Translation Guide to Polish, German, Latin, and Russian Documents is available so far in Volume I: Polish and Volume II: Russian.  If you are researching documents in these languages, Fred and Jonathan’s guide is simply indispensable.  I own Volume I, and it’s nearly 400 pages of  record samples, translations, and explanations about the Polish language and handwriting.

So, readers, if you didn’t recognize the name “William F. Hoffman” you may be realizing by now that perhaps you should have.  I encourage you to consult his works.  The “name” books are available through PGSA and the “translation” guides are available through Avotaynu.

As you can imagine, there are a lot of things to discuss with someone as knowledgeable as Fred is about these topics.  My interview will be divided into four parts and posted throughout the week.  I invite you to pour a cup of your favorite beverage and join us as we chat…

WPiP: What do you think is the biggest myth or misconception about researching Polish names?

Fred: I’d say the biggest misconception I’ve encountered consistently is that surnames (not just Polish, all surnames) are etched in stone — that they’re unique, utterly stable, and indispensable in research.

Of course, a correct surname can help enormously in tracing your family roots. But anyone with significant experience quickly realizes that very few surnames are unique; they are vulnerable to misspelling and outright mangling; and they aren’t necessarily all that helpful. I tell people all the time that the correct place name can be far more valuable than a correct surname. Records are kept locally, so if you can find the village where your ancestors lived and get access to the local records, you can often spot your family while looking through those records, even if you have the surname wrong, by matching up names and dates and places. If all you have is the surname, even if it’s correct, you’re in the same position as a person wandering through the streets of Kraków or Warsaw yelling “Does anybody know who my family is?” Good luck with that!

You have to remember: surnames are human inventions. Humans do not usually do things perfectly and logically and consistently; we tend to do the best we can at the time with what we have. A surname is not a graven image. It’s more like a snapshot, a picture of something that was appropriate to an ancestor at the time. There is no guarantee it remained appropriate. An ancestor might have gotten the name BYSTRON (from _bystry_, “quick, rapid”) because he was quick, he moved rapidly. The name stuck, and his descendants were called by it. They might have been a pack of slugs, but once the surname was in place, it tended to hang on. What started out as a perfect description of an ancestor could become downright misleading within a generation or two!

Plus there could be a hundred other families in various parts of Poland who also went by that name because they, too, had quick ancestors. So much for unique and reliable! We know very well that a name like Smith or Jones is hardly unique — why are we surprised when Kowalski or Jankowicz, which basically mean the same things in Polish, are not terribly helpful in tracking down a given ancestor?

As for stability, what bothers me most about researchers and names is that people don’t apply their everyday experience to this question. We’ve all had our names misheard, misunderstood, misspelled — why are we astonished when this also happened to our ancestors? My colleague Jonathan Shea tells me I wouldn’t believe how many ways people have mangled his name. It’s four letters, for God’s sake!

So I advise people to keep an open mind about surnames, especially their spelling. Bring your own experience to bear, and you’ll realize names are not unique, they’re subject to change, and therefore they can only be of limited help. That may depress some folks; but with no false notions, they’ll be in a better position to deal with what they actually encounter in the course of their research.

WPiP: Some researchers focus on one spelling of a name only with no variations.  Is this the best way?

Fred: As my answer to the first question indicates, no, this is almost a guarantee of failure. If you find that your name has been absolutely consistent in form and spelling for generations, you are one lucky individual! You should forget genealogy and head for Las Vegas.

In trying to deal with name variations, maybe the best practical suggestion is to try to learn a little about how Polish is pronounced.  You don’t need to become fluent in the language, and you don’t even need to pronounce it perfectly. If you can just develop a basic notion how names sound, you have a better chance of understanding how they changed. More often than not, mangled spellings can be traced back to people’s efforts to write down what they were hearing. Most Americans have a hard time pronouncing and spelling Polish names, so there was a lot of room for error, even if everyone involved was trying to get the names right. If you know, the Polish name DZIĘGEL (with a hook or tail under the first E) is pronounced a lot like our word “jingle,” you won’t be thrown if that name morphs into JINGLE, as it often did in America.

Now, sometimes you find that names were changed in ways that can’t possibly be predicted. I’ve heard of cases where someone with a long Polish name like WOJCIECHOWICZ had his name changed by his boss at work. The boss would say, “Look, you, I can’t spell or pronounce your name. If you want to be paid, from now on your name is Jones.  You got a problem with that?” And since the immigrant usually needed the job more than he needed his name, he’d shrug and say, “OK, boss.” Just like that, Władysław Wojciechowicz turns into Joe Jones. You have to do really outstanding research not to be thrown off the track by that twist!

When it comes to immigrants and their name changes, I’ve seen four basic scenarios:

1) The immigrant knew how to read and write his name and was stubborn about holding onto it, so it remained unchanged. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Poles can sometimes be a teensy bit stubborn! So some immigrants’ names survived with little or no mangling, despite the worst their new neighbors could do.

2) The immigrant needed to find a way to get along, and realized his foreign-sounding name was getting in the way, so he changed it to an American name that sounded kind of similar. Someone named Mieczysław might choose to go by Mitchell because it sounded American and had an M sound, and a CH, and an L sound, kind of like his original name. If you’ve grown up answering to “Mieczysław,” it might be easer to get used to answering to Mitchell than, say, Butch. There’s just enough continuity of sound with the old name. This is not unique to Poles, by the way; there are jillions of cases where people of all different nationalities did the same thing.

3) Despite the best efforts of all concerned, the name was butchered, often past recognition. In this case, the Americanized version might retain nothing more than the same 1st letter, if that. If you have the Americanized form, you can’t reconstruct the original form; but once research tells you what the original form was, you may be able to backtrack and grasp how and why it was changed.

4) Immigrants got sick and tired of spelling and pronouncing their names, only to have them mangled. So they said “To hell with it” and junked their old names, choosing something short and easy for Americans to handle. A WOJTALEWICZ in Chicago might become WRIGLEY because he passed a sign advertising Wrigley gum and thought, “Hey, that’s a good American name.” Or the change might not have been their choice, as in the case I mentioned earlier about the boss laying down the law.

It’s worth noting that when they did change their names, immigrants often went for a clean break. For many of them, it hurt too much to remember the old country. All that was in the past, over and done with — so why not be a new man, with a new name? The basic law in England and the U.S. (at least until recently) has always been that you can call yourself anything you like, as long as you’re not trying to evade the police. So immigrants didn’t need to file any kind of papers about a formal name change, and usually did not. They went by a new name, and that was that. More often than not, when their children or grandchildren asked about any aspect of life in the old country, they clammed up, because they’d closed that door and had no intention of reopening it. I KNOW many people have told me that’s how it was in their families! This could extend to names as well.

As you can imagine, for a genealogist, scenarios 1 and 2 are fairly easy to work with. Number 3 is tough. Number 4 is impossible — the only way you’ll figure it out is if you do some very good, thorough research. It also doesn’t hurt to get lucky.

Stay tuned for Part 2 in which Fred will discuss surname “rules” and the worst misspellings of Polish names he’s encountered! Later this week, in Parts 3 and 4 we’ll talk about translating records and tips for reading difficult handwriting.

Update, September 1, 2008 – The 4-part series is complete, so here are the links to each segment of our Interview with William F. Hoffman:

What Secrets are in Your Family’s Closet?

Author Diana Raab made some interesting discoveries about her family history.  The first is a sad discovery, one that no one wants to find – her grandmother’s suicide.  The other discovery is one that every genealogist longs for – her grandmother’s journal.  In Regina’s Closet, she tells her grandmother’s life story in a mix of memoir, history, family documents, and – naturally – her grandmother’s own writing.

Regina, the grandmother, wrote a journal in her later years that recounted her harrowing youth and young adulthood.  Born in Galicia in 1903, her youth in Poland was spent among the difficult years of World War I and cholera epidemics.  Orphaned at a young age, Regina’s descriptions of loneliness and poverty are heartbreaking.  She also writes about her immigrations to Vienna, Paris, and eventually the United States prior to World War II.  But despite the hardships Regina endured and the glimpses of depression that would later cause her to take her life, the book also shows the strength of her spirit – a strength her grandaughter Diana inherited.  The focus of the short book is not necessarily her grandmother’s suicide, but the life she lived.  It’s about family and relationships, and it offers an interesting glimpse into history and how it affected people’s lives.

I was attracted to the book for several reasons.  Any book that involves a “secret journal” peaks my interest!  Who wouldn’t want to find a relative’s secret journal, something in their own had that would give us more than just simple dates and facts that we dig up in historical records.  A journal is personal, revealing – it offers insight into who the person was and how they felt.  I have no such documents in my family history, so I’m left to wonder about what my ancestors were really like.  But the way Raab weaves her own story into her grandmother’s poses an interesting question to genealogists – what are you doing to tell your own story for future generations?

Another reason I read this book was the fact that her grandmother committed suicide.  I also have a suicide in my family history, my great-grandfather John Piontkowski.  He hung himself from a rope in the basement of his house when he was 71 years old.  It happened five years after the death of his wife.  My father was a boy, and his father never told him much about it in later years.  In an attempt to uncover some insight into his death, I even located the inquest case file from the Medical Examiner’s Office.  It revealed very little: he was likely dead for three days before being found, the police found “nothing suspicious” about his death, and his son signed an affadavit saying “There did not seem to be anything wrong with him, he was not under any doctor’s care.”  Yet another family mystery regarding the only great-grandfather of which I have no photograph, no sense of who he was or how his personal history affected him.

Stories like Regina’s Closet remind us that all of us have a story to be told, and it inspires us to try to discover our ancestors’ stories.  Diana Raab has a wonderful quote in the book from Francois Mauriac in The Desert of Love:

We are, all of us, molded and remolded by those who have loved us, and though that love may pass, we remain nonetheless their work — a work that very likely they do not recognize and which is never exactly what they intended.

How the Irish Saved Civilization

I always look forward to reading the latest edition of the Carnival of Irish Heritage and Culture, but I’m always disappointed that I can’t join in.  I have no Irish ancestry, and I haven’t had time to research my friends’ Irish genealogies or my niece’s Irish genes.  So I’m thrilled that the latest topic for the Carnival is the Summer Reading Challenge!  I love learning about cultures and what makes them tick, and reading about Irish culture was especially enlightening.

My choice for the reading challenge was Thomas Cahill’s How the Irish Saved Civilization.  As book one of Cahill’s “Hinges of History” series, he focuses on “the untold story of Ireland’s heroic role from the fall of Rome to the rise of medieval Europe”.  Cahill’s histories do not focus on one static event of history, but rather the “hinges” of history as the world moves from one static period to another.  Before Cahill can explain how the Irish saved civilization, he explains exactly what civilization was almost lost.  The first third of the book isn’t centered on Ireland at all, but on the world of the Roman Empire and how that Empire crumbled.

The second third introduces a legendary Irish figure – none other than St. Patrick himself!  This section focuses on Irish pagan culture, and what Patrick brought to Ireland and Irish culture.  Here Cahill introduces a very interesting thought — that the Christianity that Patrick introduces to Ireland is, in effect, the first “de-Romanized Christianity in human history.”  He explains that even though Rome formally received Christianity in the year 313 AD, Christianity didn’t really receive Rome.  In Ireland, however, a brand new Christian culture emerged that changed Irish thought.  Things that were a part of Irish culture, like slavery and human sacrifice, became unthinkable after Christianity was accepted.  But, the Irish managed to maintain their “physchological identity”.  Irish culture became a part of Irish Christianity.

Of course, how the Irish saved civilization is through the works of Irish monks preserving the Roman world’s literature, and native Irish literature, and later passed it back to the rest of Europe through education.  What sounds quite simple become utterly fascinating in the way Cahill describes history.  If it wasn’t for the work of these Irish monks, most of what we know today of the ancient world would have been lost.  The end of the book deals with how Irish civilization itself fell.

One quote from the book really struck me.  In a 9th Century manuscript, a monk living far from his native Ireland cites a favorite quote from the Roman Horace: “They change their sky but not their soul who cross the ocean.” How true is this quote of our immigrant ancestors?  Whether Irish or another nationality, they left their native lands but kept a part of their homeland inside.

If you enjoy history, you’ll enjoy this book.  I’ve also read the next two books in Cahill’s series: “The Gifts of the Jews”, which focuses on the cultural and religious legacy left to the world from the Jewish people, and “Desire of the Everlasting Hills”, which focuses on who Jesus was in His time as well as His impact on the world at large.  I have not yet read two others in the “Hinges of History” series: “Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea” about the Greeks, and “Mysteries of the Middle Ages” about, obviously, the Middle Ages!

I thought I would also have a fiction book that qualified for this summer reading challenge, but the book as a whole didn’t stay focused on Ireland.  Still, I highly recommend Pete Hamill’s Forever for an insightful look into Ireland’s past.  Forever focuses on Cormac O’Connor, an 18th Century Irishman.  The first third of this novel is set in Ireland and beautifully recounts Cormac’s family life and the Irish culture.  While Cormac himself is not Catholic, it also details the dreadful Penal Laws and their consequences.  After his father’s death as a result of these laws, Cormac immigrates to America to seek revenge.  He befriends an African slave, who later saves his life in a fantastical way.  The slave is actually a shaman, and he restores Carmac’s life – forever.  As long as he stays on the island of Manhattan, he will not die.  The novel moves forward throughout Cormac’s long life all the way through to 2001.  Some readers will find it too unbelievable, but isn’t that the beauty of fiction?  The novel is beautifully written.  I had hoped that Cormac’s love for Ireland would remain more closely integrated to the rest of the novel, but he becomes less of an Irishman and more of a New Yorker as the years of his long life move along.  But, the beginning offers a very detailed, beautiful, and historically accurate glimpse of Ireland in the late 1700’s.

[Written for the 7th Edition of the Carnival of Irish Heritage & Culture: Summer Reading Challenge]

Connecting Through Literature

One of the best ways to connect with others is to have something in common, and frequently it’s a common “favorite” like a book or a movie. It’s fun to talk about a favorite thing with someone who is equally enthusiastic!

A few weeks ago I visited my 12-year-old niece. She’s never too revealing about anything that happens in school – the conversation usually begins with “What are you learning about this week?” with the answer of “Oh, nothing…” But occasionally she’ll talk, as was the case on this visit. As I read over her shoulder, I asked about the story she was writing. It was a school project related to a book they were reading as a class. She handed it to me – “It’s about this millionaire who dies, and one of the people in his will will inherit everything…but he was murdered and it’s a mystery to find out who did it.” Uh, how did he know who killed him when he wrote his will? “I don’t know! We’re not finished the book yet!”

I was happy that she was happy reading. She’s a fantastic student at the top of her class, but she’s not as enthusiastic about reading as I was at that age. Fortunately, she has way more friends and more physical hobbies like dance and soccer. But something was nagging me about this book…it sounded familiar. Nah, it can’t be…

As a kid, I used to buy books stacks at a time when we could afford it. Of those hundreds, I eventually saved ones that I really liked and gave away the others. By adulthood, I had about 14 of my old books – not counting a shelf full of Robert Heinlein novels that straddle the “young adult” and “adult” fiction categories. I looked at my bookshelf, and found what sounded a lot like my niece’s book. After a quick call to confirm the title, it was the same book!

The Westing GameThe Westing Game by Ellen Raskin won the Newberry Medal in 1979, and I probably read it shortly thereafter — the same age my niece is now. As I paged through it, I couldn’t remember anything about it at all, but the fact that I still had it meant that I must have really liked it. The book isn’t just a mystery, but a “puzzle mystery” where the reader tries to solve it by finding various clues scattered throughout the novel. Consider it my early prep work for my future as a genealogist!

Finding that minor connection with my niece was nice, and it led me to wonder – how many of our present likes (or dislikes) are similar to those of our ancestors? My niece is now reading what is called a “modern classic” on the cover of the latest printing, which puts it into the realm of the old days when her old aunt was a kid. As a former English major, I have read and loved many classics that go back a lot further than 1979! My ancestors didn’t leave any records or diaries of the books they enjoyed, but maybe, just maybe, I re-discovered one of their favorites many years later.

Will your descendants know what your favorites were as a child or an adult? I didn’t even remember my own old favorite until I was reminded by a 12-year-old!

Tag, I’m It – A Book Review Meme

This isn’t quite genealogy-related, but I love books so it’s fun anyway.  I’ve been tagged by The Virtual Dime Museum for a book meme.  Here are my answers…

What issues/topic interests you most–non-fiction, i.e,cooking, knitting, stitching, there are infinite topics that has nothing to do with novels?

The non-fiction topics that interest me the most and find their way to my bookshelves the most often are religion, history, and travel.  If a book contains all three of those topics rolled into one, it’s a must for me!  I also read a bit on health topics (alternative medicine), classic film, genealogy, and writing.

Would you like to review books concerning those?

I don’t actively seek out “book review” jobs, but I wouldn’t mind it, especially if I really enjoyed the book.  I like to talk about books I loved.  Reviews are a bit harder when you didn’t enjoy the book – unless you really hated it, then those are easy!

Would you like to be paid or do it as interest or hobby? Tell reasons for what ever you choose.

As someone who writes for fun and for money, I can tell you that it’s infinitely more fun to be paid for what you write.  A book review is actually harder than one would think, and since a lot of thought would have to go into it, I’d rather be paid.

Would you recommend those to your friends and how?

I do recommend books to my friends all the time, either in conversation or in email.  Most say, “Who has time to read?”  I actually wanted to begin a third blog that would deal mostly with books I’ve read and the topics they cover.  As I was reading about 2-5 books a month for a while, this seemed like it would be easy to do.  But, this blog has taken up a bit too much time – I’ve found I haven’t been reading as much, so starting another blog just doesn’t make sense right now.

If you have already done something like this, link it to your post.

I haven’t.

Now I’m supposed to “tag” ten other bloggers.  Lidian, just how many bloggers do you think I know? 😉  I think all of my blogging friends have already been tagged, so let’s just read all of their responses!