Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Minds of the West, first take

Where better to get buyer's remorse than when you buy a book or CD amid the excitement of a genealogy meeting? It's a definite risk. I picked up Jon Gjerde's The Minds of the West: Ethnocultural Evolution in the Rural Middle West 1830-1917 at the DuPage County gathering last month, and I'm about a quarter of the way through and still happy.

Gjerde has some interesting and deep things to say about the nature of the Midwest, starting back when it was (as the title suggests) simply "the West," and caused no end of worry to fretful New Englanders and nativists in general. More on that later. Right now I'm noticing how vividly he shows how genealogy and history are just opposite ends of a whole spectrum of ways to study the past, and how the big picture and the little picture are both valid and shed light on each other.

Instead of just talking about the family factor in migration, he uses the diary of Sarah Browne Armstrong Adamson to follow her feelings in the later 1830s and early 1840s as her children move on from their Fayette County, Ohio, home to greener pastures in faraway Iowa -- and then when she hears that her daughter and granddaughter have died there. {83-85} Suffice to say it's the kind of grieving white people don't do any more.

The diary was transcribed by Carol Benning and reposes in the archives of the Cedar Falls [Iowa] Historical Society, which offers lots of regular genealogical fare including census records, marriage records, probates, directories, and a name-by-name Civil War roster.

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