Writing family history is first and foremost an exercise in selection. Reviewing that hoard of letters, photographs, diaries, family legends, and oral history from which you compose your account, you must decide continuously which details to include and which to leave out. Continue reading
On March 21, the government of Mali was overthrown, and chaos descended on this West African nation of 15 million people. The origins of the coup lay in interlocking crises of rebellion, drought, famine, and the Arab Spring currently roiling the Mideast. Its resolution, which may depend on the military forces of Mali’s neighbors and those of outside powers, cannot be foreseen at this time. But an Associated Press article on Amadou Haya Sanogo, the obscure Army captain who led the coup, brought the whole affair into sharper focus and showed me how family history can sometimes cast a light on history in general.
Last week, I wrote about gender, patriarchy, and related matters as factors in family history. I was interested in how gender roles, power, and authority shape family life, and hence, the history a family leaves behind. I noted that stories about my father, uncles, and grandfathers dominated our family lore, and I wrote about the value I found in stories about my mother, aunt, and grandmothers (along with the archival materials my maternal grandmother left behind).
Well, I wrote all these things and thought I was done with the subject, at least for the moment. Continue reading
Gender, patriarchy, and stuff like that are hugely relevant to family history. These notions have enormous practical and theoretical significance. Continue reading
One of the things that surprised me when I began researching my family history was finding out how much history there is in my family. I don’t mean personal information about my relatives, such as where they lived or what they looked like. I mean public history, the things you can read about in history books. Continue reading
Whenever I search the web for information on family history, I’m disappointed in the results. It’s not that the search hits aren’t helpful—I invariably find a slew of genealogy sites, which are indeed essential in researching my family’s origins. But genealogy is a means to me, not an end. The thrill of finding my great-grandfather’s name on a census form is only temporary. I want to know more about my ancestors than where they lived.