Learning social history from fiction

I was recently introduced to Rhys Bowen’s Molly Murphy mystery series. The series starts with the main character fleeing Ireland and coming through Ellis Island into NY around 1900. The accounts of the landlord system in Ireland, the cramped quarters of steerage, and the confusing passage through Ellis Island is in line with what I have read about those. The second book delves more into life in New York at the turn of the 20th century–again in line with what I have read, although I am not an expert in this time period.

I find reading these mysteries more fun than reading straight history books. I also find that due to the liberties of character development allowed in fiction that are not allowed in non-fiction, that I can get a better feel of the times and the characters come to life.

While I am certainly not recommending that historical fiction replace academic research and primary source research, I do think that well-written and well-research historical fiction can give us a window into the time period that may not be available from primary source or academic research.

What are your favorite historical fiction authors?

Upcoming Social History/Genealogy Events

I gave a talk recently to the Falmouth Genealogical Society and afterwards one of the members came up and told me about her ancestors who were rope makers in the mid 1800s. She is learning all kinds of things about making rope and is attending a talk in Plymouth about the Cordage Company and will go to Mystic Seaport where they have the ropewalk from the Cordage Company. I was thrilled to see her excited about learning about the occupation of her ancestors and how they were literally coming to life for her.

Local genealogy and historical societies are a really great place to learn about social history and place your ancestors in context. The historical societies have relevant historical records and the genealogy societies have members that share your passions. It is a wonderful place to network and share knowledge.

Now that spring is coming and it’s nice to venture outside, I wanted to let you know about some upcoming history events at some of the living history villages in the area. Most offer demonstrations on daily life for the time periods which they cover. Many are informal, meaning that you walk into a house and the living historian will tell you about the house and life in the time period. Others are more formal where you need to register and pay in advance.

Historic Deerfield is offering two sets of cooking demonstrations. April and May were when colonists literally scraped the bottom of the barrel for food as they waited for spring blooms. Also learn what your colonial ancestors would cook in the summer.  Strawbery Banke is hosting a Civil War encampment June 8 and 9. Also see if Plimoth Plantation or Old Sturbridge Village are offering anything of interest to you.

Food history is becoming more popular among genealogists. Historic Deerfield’s annual Dublin Seminar is on foodways this year. The seminar is from June 21-23. Talks will cover foodways during many periods since 1620 and includes some talks about food and politics that sound very interesting.

Let me know if there are any local programs that you are looking forward to. I am really looking forward to the Dublin Seminar.