Posted in Book Reviews

Book Review: TVA and the Dispossessed

Celebrating your 40th birthday during a global pandimic is not the ideal situation. To make up for it, my family decided to get everyone involved in the celebration by buying me a book for my birthday. The goal was for me to receive 40 books on my 40th birthday. I have never felt so much love in my life!

You’re probably wondering what that has to do with this book and my book review. In that collection of 40 books was a book by the name of “TVA and the Dispossessed” by Michael J. McDonald and John Muldowny. I’ve made no secret of my slight obsession with the Tennessee Valley Authority and their construction of Norris Dam. I had no idea that this book existed, but my mom found a random bookstore in England (of all places!) that had a copy and she was determined to get it for me for my birthday. I devoured this book in no time.

The Book

TVA and the Dispossessed starts at the very beginning of the Norris Dam project. The book does a good job at explaining why the Tennessee Valley Authority even took on this project. It introduces all of the players and the roll(s) they played in the process. The book explains how the TVA looked at the Norris Basin as not just a way to bring jobs and electricity to the area, but also as a social experiment. They looked at those who lived in the Norris Basin area as people from a different era.

This books does take a deep dive into the data collected by the Tennessee Valley Authority. While some charts seem to get repetitive, they do a good job of really showing important information.

The Surprises

This book includes interviews from those who lived in the area at the time of the TVA request for relocation. The words they share paint a clear picture of what life was like. It also clearly shows just what was at risk for families being forced to relocate. For example, the chart below shows the living conditions/personal possessions of those who were being relocated. It clearly shows what the families were at risk of losing. While some may not believe they were losing much, this chart shows how they were accustomed to living.

Chart explaining the living conditions of those being removed for the Norris Basin

The authors of this book also took the time to interview some of the residents who were living in the Norris Basin at the time. These were families who were being forced to relocate. By reading their words, it really gives you a sense of what life was like for them. It also gives you a better understanding of what their feelings were about the TVA.

But…most people…didn’t want to leave, and they thought they should have been…given something for having to move or being driven out of their homes where they’d lived for generations, their forefathers lived there before them, and I think they should have been allowed some consideration for that.

Hubert Stooksbury “TVA and the Dispossessed”

The Verdict

This books ended up being eye-opening for me. While I thought I knew a bit about the TVA and the Norris Basin project, I had never looked at it from the other side. I will admit, it did not change how I feel about the situation, but I did come out of it with a better understanding. The book was fairly easy to read only because I had a vast interest in the subject. It does go into the data of the project quite a bit and I did get a little confused with all the names.

If you had ancestors in this area in the 1930s, I highly recommend reading this book. It will allow you to walk in their shoes and experience the uncertainty of relocating and losing the community you had known. Researching documents will only get you so far. This book does an excellent job at filling in the blanks and giving the complete story.

With that said, I would give it an 8 out of 10. The technicalities of dam building and relocating got a little old, but I understand why it was included. Read this book for the words of those who were there. Read this book to feel more connected to your ancestors.

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Book Review – The Lost Family

I knew when I first heard about Libby Copeland’s book, “The Lost Family”, I had to read it. It has been on my must read list since last year. I finally got around to buying, and reading it, this month. What can I say, the list of books that I want to read is at least a mile long!

The Book

The Lost Family takes a look at genetic DNA testing and the many different outcomes that may come from it. The book covers from the time DNA test first hit the genealogy scene to what the future holds. Even while diving into the scientific aspects of DNA, Copeland continues to weave the emotional, real-life stories throughout. The Lost Family really makes you pause and think about all the possible outcomes and effects of DNA testing.

I thought that I was an early tester when it came to DNA. However, Copeland goes into such a detailed history that even the most seasoned genealogist will learn something. This book does a wonderful job at taking the reader step-by-step through DNA testing. It never gets boring. For a book that detoured into scientific jargon from time to time, I found it relatively easy to follow.

The Surprises

I really picked up this book to read in order to recommend it to others. I really did not expect to get anything new out of it. I am happy to say that I was wrong. Seeing the fallout of DNA results from real people and real experiences was eye-opening. One story in particular (don’t worry, no spoilers) kept me hanging on the edge of my seat. I think as genealogist, we get so wrapped up in DNA and our matches that we sometimes lose the mystery aspect of the process. Copeland does a great job of taking us on a DNA journey.

Aside from the personal DNA stories, I was really surprised at how the section regarding DNA and race/ethnicity hit me. Whenever I discuss DNA testing, this subject is usually my soapbox. I think DNA is a great way to open our world, and our minds, to other ethnicities and how we connect. Copeland wrote about, and gave facts about, aspects of ethnic identity that I had never thought about.

To attempt to read the past through the genes, you need more than knowledge of science, statistics, and algorithms. You need to understand history, and history is profoundly messy.

Libby Copeland “The Lost Family”

The Verdict

If you have ever taken a DNA test, or have considered taking a DNA test, you should read this book. To say it is eye-opening would be an understatement. My only issue (and for me, it wasn’t that big of an issue) is when Copeland takes a deep dive into the science of DNA. I love science and even for me it became a bit dense. It also seemed to get a bit repetitive when talking about the technical side of DNA. It is not so big of an issue that it would cause me not to recommend the book. I just want you to be aware of that part of the book.

All in all, I would give this book an 8 out of 10. You should read for the DNA history, learn the DNA technicalities, and stay for the DNA stories. For the conclusion alone, you will not be disappointed.

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Book Review – Clanlands

Sometimes you come across a book accidentally. That is how I stumbled upon Clanlands. If you’re familiar with the show Men In Kilts, then you know where the book comes from. Like one of the blurbs said, this book is a love letter to Scotland. I couldn’t agree more, but to understand why I love this book, let me start at the beginning.

I began planning my Ireland and Scotland trip in March. That’s when I started noticing the advertisements for Men In Kilts on my Facebook feed. I had no idea who Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish were. I had heard of the show Outlander, but I had never watched an episode. All I knew is that these “men in kilts” were in Scotland and I needed to binge watch.

After devouring the show (seriously, if you’re planning a trip to Scotland you need to watch it) I found out that the show was actually based on a book. Luckily, I live super close to a book store and they had one copy of the book. Clanlands was now in my hands! I started reading it immediately. It did help that I had watched Men In Kilts already. I had a mental image of the people and places mentioned in the book.

The Book

Clanlands was able to go so much deeper than the TV show. While I expected to learn more about Sam and Graham as individuals, I also received a crash course in Scottish history. They did an excellent job of balancing personal stories with historical Scotland stories. I learned about the Jacobites and the Bonnie Prince. I learned about different Clans and their tartans. I met all kinds of interesting characters along the way, both from the past and present. This book is what I wish all history books would be. To say that Clanlands took me on an adventurous journey would be an understatement.

The Surprises

Just by reading the book’s jacket, I knew that I would get to know Sam and Graham on a more personal level. What surprised me the most, was going on the journey with them of discovering each of their deeper personal connection with Scotland. While I expected my connection to Scotland to grow by reading this book, I very much enjoyed witnessing each of their experiences. For me, there is nothing better than watching someone fall in love with history. Especially when they have a personal connection to it.

Oh, and if you’re able to listen to the audiobook, do it! I have never listened to an audiobook before, but I thought it might be interesting to listen to this one. Boy, was I right! Yes, reading the words of Sam and Graham was entertaining, but you get something from hearing them say the words that just makes it hit deeper.

The Verdict

I would absolutely, in a heartbeat, recommend Clanlands to anyone and everyone. If you have a trip planned to Scotland or you have Scottish ancestors, go read it now! As a genealogist, I loved when both Sam and Graham made connections to their own personal family histories. My favorite quote from the book was from Sam…

It’s lead me to discover my own extensive family tree, having always believed I’d come from a small family.

I am an advocate for anything that encourages us to look back to those who came before us and how our ancestors influence who we are today. Like Sam, I used to say that I come from a small family. Thanks to history and genealogy, I know that’s not true. Go read Clanlands, then let another family member (maybe someone in a younger generation) borrow it. I can almost guarantee it will start you on a path of discovering your history.