Best-selling author Bill Bryson (Mother Tongue, Made in America: A Short History of Nearly Everything) has written a new book that might be of interest to people planning a family history.
The New York Times recently reviewed Bryson’s newly published At Home: A Short History of Private Life. Says reviewer Dominique Brown, “Bryson’s focus is domestic; he intends, as he puts it, to ‘write a history of the world without leaving home.’” The book is organized around the rooms of Bryson’s house. “Moving from room to room, talking while we walk…” he touches on such disparate topics as antique parlor chairs, buttons, vitamins, stairs as a cause of fatal accidents, the Erie Canal, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, the history of ice, Building materials, the numerous words important into English when India dominated the cotton trade, pillows, petroleum, and guano as fertilizer.
“Bryson’s conceit is nifty, providing what business majors might recognize as a “loose-tight” management structure,” said Brown, ”flexible enough to maintain a global scope without losing track of the mundane.”
It’s that organizational structure that can be useful for a family historian looking for an alternative to lock-step chronology. Whether frustrated by a shortage of stories to supplement the genealogical facts about some ancestors or simply looking for a more interesting way to relate the family history, topical organization can be a useful tool.
A book might be organized around
- Life experiences such as occupations, education, child raising, military service, migrations (everything from the stories of immigration to America to moves across the country or across the street) or food.
- Values like courage, intelligence, sense of humor, creativity, persistence, hard work
- Character traits including courage, intelligence, sense of humor, creativity, persistence, hard work
Whichever topics around which you decide to organize your family history you will be able to add interest by using the historical context of the time and place in which ancestors lived to supplement their stories.
Click here to read the full review of At Home: A Short History of Private Life.