What I’m Reading Now

Another in an occasional series. This entry includes two I’ve finished and one in process. I am making a presentation to the genealogy club at Godfrey Memorial Library next month. Using Can Anything Beat White?: A Black Family’s Letters as the paradigm, I plan to talk about creating a narrative and maneuvering the morass that is the publishing industry in the twenty-first century.

forgotten copy

To branch out from personal example, I’ll present three books about the residents of the Cane River area of Louisiana to demonstrate how one can employ the same facts, same dates, same setting to create three very different books.

The first one to be widely distributed was The Forgotten People: Cane River’s Creoles of Color, credited to Gary B. Mills and revised by his widow Elizabeth Shown Mills, who I understand wrote much of the original. It is a scholarly work, full of footnotes and bibliography.

Shown Mills wrote a fictional version as well, Isle of Canes, which runs nearly six hundred pages, and opens with a map, a summary of the generations, and eight pages of family trees. isle copy

I’ve finished these two.  With a couple of exceptions, the people are indistinguishable. and their stories don’t engage. The novel, especially, tries to fight the American Revolution, parts of the French Revolution, the War of 1812, and of course the Civil War while also exploring the quotidian lives of those who resided along the Cane River.

In between these two works, Lalita Tademy published the novel Cane River, which became an Oprah Book Club selection, and focuses on generations of women in her family.

cane copyTo a greater or lesser degree, all three works concern the families created by liaisons between black or mulatto women and the white, mostly French, men who enslaved them and fathered their children. Many of these mixed-race people became slave owners themselves and suffered far greater losses during the Civil War than their white neighbors.

The three together will make great examples of what to do and what not to do when writing family history.

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