In the High Peaks

Friday, May 23, 2014

Teetering Pile of Books Threatening to Collapse

New books and exciting older books are tumbling across my path these days, and wouldn't you know, I started teaching an intensive summer Children's and YA lit course on Monday, which leaves me little time to read. My non-work-related or pure pleasure reading has taken a hit from late winter on. Yet the books haven't stopped coming.

The Train to Warsaw by Gwen Edelman is the book I feel I must read as soon as I've finished Private Peaceful. I have found a lot to savor in the sub-genre of Holocaust fiction focused on showing the repercussions, the sequelae, the legacy of being very young survivors over the course of a lifespan. The Train to Warsaw is about a man and a woman who escaped from Warsaw when they were very young. They were then separated and reunited, married, and lived a lifespan in London. Over 40 years later, they both return to Warsaw, where the husband, a writer, has been invited to speak. And off they go. At 190 pages, with not many words per page, and poetic words at that, I was immediately drawn to the book. I must finish it over this long weekend.

How I wish I could squeeze in a thorough read of the English historian Ian Mortimer's remarkable work, The Time Traveler's Guide to Elizabethan England. When my eye caught this title on the New Nonfiction library shelf, a book I wouldn't have glanced at a year ago suddenly riveted me. First off, the author is an authority on his subject. He has a BA, a PhD, and a DLitt degree from Exeter University as well as an MA in archive studies from university College London. His achievements go on from there. The credentials gave me confidence in the book. So the connection:
In the past 5 months, I have been researching my mother's family relentlessly, that is, in a genealogical sense. This quest has led me to pursue a new, intense interest in 17th-century colonial Massachusetts and New England history, apart from my family. Now bear with me--I know that statement promises that ultra-boring statements will follow.

As it turns out, though, except for one 1620 Mayflower ancestor, all of my mother's ancestors were Puritans who fled East Anglia for  Massachusetts during the Great Migration from 1629-1640, during the reign of Charles I. This group fled religious persecution, primarily. However, some of the emigrants were born in the late 1500s or had parents who were born at that time. From my studies, it's amazing to read how English culture, folklore, superstitions, old sayings, societal norms--everything was transplanted and remained important in the families and in the overall society and culture of English colonists of Massachusetts.

Well, red lights sparked for me because my mom's family farmed in the same area of Massachusetts for over 300 years. She grew up on a farm within 25 miles of all the farms where all of her ancestors back to the 17th century did. Her direct ancestors did not move on, though many of the sons of these prolific families did.  My mom's family held tight to many, many of their customs. They married each other. My mother's parents discovered that they were not only third cousins, they were fourth cousins, fifth cousins, and sixth cousins. So until I discovered these amazing facts, I did not realize that many of the old sayings and customs common to my mom's family came from East Anglia. This knowledge came from a superb history written by the renowned U.S. historian David Hackett Fisher entitled Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America. One-fourth of the book is devoted to the East Anglian origins of Puritan Massachusetts settlers. And, naturally, much of their way of living connects strongly with the ways of life prominent during the Elizabethan era.

My next phone conversation with Mom: Did you ever wonder where the compulsion for the four o'clock tea time came from?

I've just scratched the surface with my overwhelming pile of books. Maybe another post this weekend?


  1. I know what you mean about the books coming in and not being read. I'm swamped at the moment. But keep blogging. It's so nice to read your updates.

    1. Sarah,
      I'm so glad you enjoy the updates. How I wish I could publish more of them! And I continue to hop on to your blog whenever I see a new post. I take note of your favorites, you know.

  2. Fascinating. Do you know where in East Anglia they came from? I lived there for a few years.

    1. Katrina,
      I had no idea you lived in East Anglia at one time! In what town(s) or village(s) did you live?
      I've traced many, many ancestors back to Norfok and Suffolk, and gosh! I've got to get out my sources. Because 17th century New England settlers are considered the most well-researched group of any group of immigrants in American history, there is loads of information. And this is because these East Anglians kept scrupulous records about everything, including court records. It seems that they frequently sued each other over land boundaries. They kept impeccable church records: baptisms, marriage banns, etc.
      Are any of your relatives from East Anglia originally?

  3. Heavens no!! We are completely Scottish but Jack and I moved to Braintree in Essex for a couple of years, when he was a research chemist. Braintree is not far from Coggeshall, Chelmsford, Colchester.