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By: Carolyn L. Barkley
From time to time we need to take a break from our research to give the analytical side of our brain a bit of a rest. Enjoying another activity while taking such a break allows us to return to the work of resolving our research problem both refreshed and reenergized. The recent week of single digit (and occasionally subzero) weather here in my part of Virginia often found me sitting in front of the fire with a warm drink and a good book. We read books about what interests us most and that realization led me to consider what fictional titles might be available that are both entertaining and involve genealogy in some fashion. I did some online searching and posted a query on “Librarians Serving Genealogists,” receiving a large number of replies with suggested titles and various recommendations. The criteria for the subgenre of “genealogical fiction” seems to vary with the individual or institution compiling the list; some include genealogists as characters, some have plots that depend upon genealogical content, and some seem only to include a family tree.
Librarians are aware of the reading interests of their customers. Many libraries include genealogical fiction lists on their websites. The Mid-Continent Public Library in Independence, Missouri, provides a “Fiction for Genealogy Lovers” reading list that includes 165 items (At the library’s log in page, chose “Reader’s Advisory” on the right hand side, on next screen choose “Suggested Reading Lists – Adult” on right hand side, on next screen chose “Fiction for Genealogy Lovers” from reading list selection.) The Williamsburg Regional Public Library in Williamsburg, Virginia, provides a “Genealogists & Genealogy in Fiction” list of 19 titles with genealogy or family history as a major plot element. In the introduction to the list, WRPL states that “One of the great excitements of genealogy is untangling the branches of the family tree and finding a lost relative…The genealogist becomes a detective, looking for clues, analyzing facts, deciding where to look next, and, in the best cases, organizing all the clues and shedding some new light on their families. It is not surprising then that, for all of these reasons, genealogists love mystery stories of all sorts. As an extra treat for family historians, in recent years there have been many mystery titles published that feature genealogists or have a genealogical thread.” The Belmont (Massachusetts) Public Library also provides an extensive annotated list of titles, and Carol Anderson of the Leesburg (Florida) Public Library was kind enough to share the list of 41 titles that she created to share with her customers. The St. Joseph County Public Library in South Bend, Indiana, provides customers with a short pathfinder about genealogy-based mysteries. Several librarians responded to my request with individual favorites, including such titles as The Blood Detective by Dan Waddell in which the detective is granted special archival access to the British Library’s newspaper collection and quick delivery of certificates (wouldn’t that be helpful in our research!), and Mansions of the Dead and O’Artful Death, both by Sarah Stewart Taylor.
In addition to librarians, many bloggers and writers have developed genealogical fiction lists. Janice Weihs edits the Newsletter of the Tacoma-Pierce County (Washington) Genealogical Society and writes a regular column, “There’s a Mystery in the Family History.” In past issues she has included such titles as Mallets Aforethought by Sarah Graves and Genealogy of Murder by Lee Martin. Kimberly Powell includes a “Top 10 Fiction Books for Genealogy Lovers,” including All the Names by José Saramago, and Lineages and Lies by Jimmy Fox. Last updated in February 2008, “Christine’s Book List” provides a list of titles and provides reviews of many of them, including FUG 10: Lost Treasure in the Hessian Triangle by Jay Osman, which she describes as “one of the best new genealogy mysteries I have read in the last several years.” “Cyndi’s List” contains links to several fiction titles, including A Promise to the Past: A Genealogical Mystery by James G. Brown; Isle of Canes by Elizabeth Shown Mills; and The Famous D-A-R Murder Mystery by Graham Gordon Landrum.
One of the authors mentioned in the majority of the responses to my email, as well as being included in the majority of reading lists, is Rett MacPherson. Born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, MacPherson began writing at an early age and later became interested in ‘genealogy as therapy’ following an abusive relationship. As with many of us, after just a little research, she became hooked and her interest provided content for her Torie O’Shea novels. Titles include: Family Skeletons, A Veiled Antiquity, A Comedy of Heirs, A Misty Mourning, Killing Cousins, Blood Relations, In Sheep’s Clothing, Dead Man Running, Thicker than Water, Died in the Wool, and Blood Ballad. The Publisher’s Weekly review – obviously not written by a genealogist – states that “…her slogging through genealogical clues doesn’t have a lot of drama…,” but other reviews are much more positive. You also may want to read “Genealogical Tip: Fictional Characters, Factual Research Methods – The Torie O’Shea Series” written by Amanda Forson in the WorldVitalRecords.com Newsletter (Vol. 2, issue 16, 14 January 1008). I have not yet read any of MacPherson’s books myself, but I’m definitely headed to the library soon!
I hope you will try some of these titles when the weather is too wintery to consider leaving home to do your family research. Here is a list of other titles, with thanks to Carol Anderson and the Leesburg Public Library for permission to include them here:
Adams, Deborah. All the Crazy Winters
Barnard, Robert. At Death’s Door
Brown, Rita Mae. Riding Shotgun
Butler, Octavia. Kindred
Churchill, Jill. From Here to Paternity: A Jane Jeffry Mystery
Clark, Robert. My Grandfather’s House: A Genealogy of Doubt and Faith
Coe, Jonathan. The Winshaw Legacy
Daheim, Mary. Major Vices and The Alpine Escape
Gabaldon, Diana. Outlander, Drums of Autumn, Voyager
George, Anne. Murder Runs in the Family
Glantz, Margo. The Family Tree: An Illustrated Novel
Goudge, Elizabeth. Little White Horse
Grimes, Martha. The Horse You Came in On
Harrington, Jonathan. The Death of Cousin Rose
Joyce, Brenda. The Third Heiress
Kunz, Kathleen. Murder Once Removed
Landrum, Graham. The Famous DAR Murder Mystery and The Historical Society Murder
Lowell, Elizabeth. Always Time to Die
MacPherson, Rett. A Veiled Antiquity and Comedy of Heirs
Martin, Lee. Genealogy of Murder
McCrumb, Sharyn. The Songcatcher
Meigs, Mary. The Box Closet
Miller, Alex. The Ancestor Game
Moore, Brian. The Mangan Inheritance
Moring, Marcel. In Babylon
Munroe, Alice. View from Castle Rock
Nixon, Joan Lowery. Search for the Shadowman
Ogilvie, Elizabeth. The Silent Ones and The Devil in Tartan
Potter, Patricia. The Perfect Family
Ragen, Naomi. The Ghost of Hannah Mendes: A Novel
Stratton, Gene. Killing Cousins: A Mort Sinclair Mystery
Van Gieson, Judith. The Stolen Blue
Wentworth, Patricia. Blind Side
Westfall, Patricia Tichenor. Mother of the Bride
Wright, Laurlai. Mother Love: A Karl Alberg Mystery
Enjoy – and tell us about your favorites!