Book Review: ‘Reunion, A Search for Ancestors,’ by Ryan Littrell

reunion coverOn Facebook a couple weeks ago, I saw an ad for the book Reunion by Ryan Littrell. Its subtitle is “A Search for Ancestors,” and it definitely caught my eye. (Isn’t Facebook good at targeting its ads!)

I read about the book and then impulse-ordered it.

Turns out it’s a good book. I’m glad I did.

I was hooked early on by this passage about looking at a photograph of two nineteenth-century ancestors; this passage almost could have been pulled out of my own head. I think about things like this. Do you?

You can’t see in their eyes what you see in a friend who trades a knowing glance with you, because these ancestors never had the chance to know you, and so they never spoke of you, they never cared about you. What would they have thought of you if they were around today? Would they invite you in, like you were some long lost grandchild of theirs, or would they be polite and distant, the way they might treat a strange new acquaintance?

Each of us could ask these questions, but we know that there can be no response. We were never given the chance to know all the ways he would look after us, or how she would smile at us, or how they might have spoken of us, even when it was just the two of them. Our ancestors are never going to return our calls.

But spookily, they’re here. Their DNA is our DNA, in us right now, influencing everything our bodies and minds do….

I recommend this book to anyone who is curious about – or is currently researching, or ever has or will research – his or her family’s genealogy. Littrell brings the reader along as he researches, travels, meets distant cousins and uncovers the history of his family. It’s a great look at, and example of, how to do good genealogical research, and it tells an interesting story, as well.

He includes some Scottish Highlands and clan history. This book will be of special interest to anyone who traces their roots to the Scottish Highlands, and to people descended from McDonalds/MacDonalds or McDaniels/MacDaniels. Though neither of those categories apply to me, and I totally enjoyed it, too.

The synopsis:

Where do I come from? That question sets Ryan Littrell on a journey that crosses centuries and many miles. An anonymous letter, found at the bottom of a box of black-and-white pictures, reveals the first clues about his grandmother’s family story, and soon those clues lead him to a country graveyard and a long-lost cousin. Then faded names in old books, along with a DNA surprise, unearth one more generation, and yet another. And as one hint leads to the next, from the 19th century back into the 18th, he discovers his family’s place in a people’s tragic struggle-a tale of heartbreak, betrayal, and unfailing strength. A real-life account, Reunion shows how our ancestors just might still be a part of us, and how our story began long before we were even born.Screen Shot 2013-01-28 at 12.06.26 PM

Click for an interview Ryan Littrell did with the family history blog Moultrie Creek Books.

In that interview he discusses one part of his story that I find especially interesting: How he used DNA testing, our newest tool in the genealogy arsenal:

Q. What was your most surprising discovery related to this project?

A. That’s a tough question, because there were so many discoveries along the way. But if I had to pick one, it would be that email revealing my uncle’s DNA results: Each person who matched my uncle’s DNA was descended from a single family that lived for many generations in one particular spot in the Scottish Highlands. My whole life, I’d had no clue where this part of my family had come from. But suddenly, with one cheek swab from Uncle Chuck, we knew the truth.

Reunion is an interesting and well-written book; recommended. If you’re interested, buy the paperback here or download the Kindle version here.

If you’d like to know more, here’s a short Ancestry.com article by Ryan Littrell about his family history search.

You can follow Ryan Littrell and learn more about him and his book at Facebook.

As always, I hope you’ll come back here and let me know if you read the book, so we can talk about it some more!

 

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Memoir Reunites Cousins Separated 70 Years Ago

This story, from the Miami Herald, is an amazing one — and it all happened because one of these first cousins, separated by the Holocaust when they were young boys, wrote a memoir that the other one happened to see. What a dramatic illustration of the power of writing down your family history!

Do you have a family story you need to preserve? Contact me and we’ll brainstorm about it.

Cousins who survived Holocaust reunite in Broward after almost 70 years

The two men, who last saw each other in a concentration camp, fulfilled a dream Sunday in Tamarac as they met again, thanks to a memoir that one wrote.

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Leo Adler, left, looks at a picture of his mother with Leon Schagrin. Adler recently found his first cousin, Schagrin, after Adler saw this photo of Schagrin’s mother in a memoir that Schagrin wrote and realized their mothers were sisters. On Sunday they met for the first time in 70 years during the South Florida Holocaust survivors Purim party in Tamarac. Photo by Joshua Prezant

BY ELINOR J. BRECHER

For almost seven decades, Leo Adler looked for the cousin he knew only as Lemel, last seen in a Nazi death camp in 1944.

This Lemel, the son of his mother’s sister, would be Adler’s only living close relative. Everyone else died in the Holocaust.

Adler, a Hallandale Beach/Long Island snowbird, couldn’t remember his cousin’s last name, so his searches always hit a dead-end.

But in late February, a friend gave Adler a copy of another South Florida survivor’s memoir. She figured he would be interested because the author, Leon Schagrin, hailed from a town in Poland close to Adler’s native Tarnow….

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