Mount Vernon Genealogical Society - Founded 1991
Founded 1991

1500 Shenandoah Road
Alexandria, Virginia 22308
  Maury Cralle Admires the Ft Belvoir Model
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 in our Online Library Catalog.
 
Mosby Vignettes, Volume VII,
by Don Hakenson & Gregg Dudding
First Printing, September 2003.  109 pages.
Call Number:  CS71. M67
Review by Jayne Jester Tuohig
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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.


Black Roots: A Beginner’s Guide to Tracing
the African American Family Tree
by Tony Burroughs
New York: Fireside, 2001.  464 pages.
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.
 
width: 77px; height: 98px; margin-left: 8px; float: right;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.


Under Every Tree: A Guide to Finding Your Roots in Virginia
by Phyllis Brock Silber
Dementi Milestone, 2016.  212 pages.
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.
 
 




BOOK REVIEW ARCHIVE
 
New York Genealogical Research,
by George K Schweitzer, Ph.D., Sc.D
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.  


Writing the Family Narrative
by Lawrence P. Gouldrup, Ph.D. 
Self-published, 1987.  153 pages.
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.