A Family History Combines Facts with Imagination

by Memoir Mentor on April 4, 2010

Power in the BloodI’m always looking for interesting ways to write a family history that brings ancestors to life. I found an excellent example in Linda Tate’s Power in the Blood: A Family Narrative, published in 2009 by Ohio University Press. I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a way to combine research with imagination to create complex, lifelike characters that will grip readers’ hearts from the get-go.

Tate spent 14 years writing this book after seven years of exhaustive research that involved combing through genealogical records, interviewing relatives she’d never met before, and spending summers in the area where her family lived. She began her research in 1988, prompted by a recurring dream about a grandmother who died when she was five. She begins her story with this provocative statement: “Grandma Fannie died when I was five, but now I get word that she is still alive.” Who wouldn’t want to read more?

Her family history focuses primarily on two interesting women, Tate’s grandmother Fannie, and her great-great-grandmother Louisiana, who tell their own stories with the speech patterns and vocabulary of their Appalachian culture. Tate is a scholar in Appalachian literature and grew up in a family who used many of the speech patterns of their ancestors. These women feel real, and you will soon realize that they reveal themselves, flaws and all, through their compelling, often painful, stories. In addition to the character narratives, several chapters include Tate’s account of her childhood relationships with some of these people, as well as her research efforts and discoveries. Readers learn a lot about the process of putting together a family history of this magnitude.

Tate provides an unflinching view of complicated, deeply flawed individuals, who inflict a great deal of pain on their families. At the same time, she maintains a tone of fairness and understanding, and in the end she shows how knowledge and honesty can heal the psyche. We see all sides of people and come away with a greater comprehension of a unique American culture through multiple generations . I guarantee this book will get under your skin, as it did mine. To learn more, you’ll find an interview with the author here.

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