Archive for the ‘Book Review’ Category

Lamb, Wally. The Hour I First Believed. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2008. 735 pages with acknowledgements, sources, etc.

A novel! Me read a novel? This is almost unheard of. I generally read biographies and histories.

A friend recommended it and our daughter-in-law had recently read and loved it… The friend said I might appreciate the way the author handled old letters and diaries found in an attic. Well, that certainly caught my attention! Daughter-in-law agreed. Okay, I’ll give it a try.

Wally Lamb had done thorough research. Then he told his story through imagery, flashback, graphic detail, language, sympathy, anger, and other writing techniques: far-out connections and unlikely happenings, sex and family secrets. While I’ve known of some strange “soap-opera” real-life scenarios, I kept thinking no one could/would ever live this kind of life, but the author kept me going anyway. Even the fictionalized biography that was pieced together from the old diaries and letters seemed far-fetched, yet I kept reading.

This book would appeal to a variety of people, including educators, women’s rights advocates, mental health specialists, historians, clergy, and, yes, even genealogists. Particularly significant are the issues dealing with people suffering from trauma and other psychological issues: those caught in situations beyond their control and surviving. Topics include the Columbine shootings, Hurricane Katrina, prison life for women, troubled teens, divorce and love, income struggles, and coming to grips with family history. Even though the setting is very 21st Century, the author even weaves in Civil War medical treatment, Samuel Clemens and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Through all of this, readers come to understand the complex maze of life. The author accomplished his goal.

I read the entire book, in a very short time. Lamb captured my attention and I devoured.

As a family historian, I especially appreciated Lamb’s underground river “too deep for chaos to reach” allowing for ancestral connections. And, with all of the house cleaning I’ve been doing, I appreciated his ability to “unyoke” himself of family property and move on.

I’m glad I read this novel.

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A Bountiful Harvest: The Midwestern Farm Photographs of Pete Wettach, 1925-1965 by Leslie A. Loveless, University of Iowa Press, Iowa City 52242, 2002

Sometimes we are lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. Recently, a friend handed my husband a book saying, “This book has Marieta’s name on it!” It didn’t really, but she suspected I’d be interested. My friend was helping a family downsize their mother’s things. This book was among the collection.

As I read the book, I was fascinated by the story and I was fascinated by the photographs.

Pete Wettach preserved images of Iowa farm families in the 1930s, 1940s, into the 1960s. By day he worked for the Farm Security Administration (later the Farmers Home Administration) which helped small farmers purchase land. Pete had ample access to the families as he travelled from farm to farm visiting his clients and helping to guide the families in their farm and household management decisions. While not an official government photographer, Pete was interested in the story that could be told about the lives of the people he worked with, so he often set up his camera and family members posed for photographs. In the evenings, Pete would develop the negatives and print the pictures, then he would sell many of his photos to the farm magazines. Sometimes the families had the privilege of basking in momentary stardom when their friends saw their picture in a popular farm publication.

In A Bountiful Harvest, Leslie Loveless does a great job helping the reader understand the significance of Pete’s labor of love.

Several facets of this book hit soft spots with me. First, with her Brownie camera, my mother also took some pictures showing rural farm life beginning in the 1930s. Second, I grew up on a farm during the second half of Pete’s freelance photography career. Third, I have also had a darkroom, developing negatives and printing pictures, a couple times in my life. And, finally, the very last page provides information that could help genealogists with a little used resource. After doing a little more research, I plan to write about this.


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Iowa Genealogical Research by Ruby Coleman, self published, 2014, 410 pages, 8 1/2 x 11 format, spiral bound.

Ms. Coleman has done a yeoman’s job of assembling a wide range of information. However, I find some significant inaccuracies in the book. For example, she says that birth, marriage, and death records are found in the District Court office; these records are found in the Recorder’s office. I disagree with the statement “Between 1880 and 1921 only about fifty percent of the births and deaths within the counties were registered (p. 53). Also she says, “There are two State Historical Societies in Iowa.” (p. 43). There is only one State Historical Society, with libraries and archives in two locations: Des Moines and Iowa City.

I don’t understand the organization of her chapter on Ethnic Settlements. The same comment applies to the chapter on Religious Records; what is the arrangement of the information?

The entire book is lacking in source citations. The author has some footnotes, but not nearly enough. At the end of each chapter is a “Suggested Reading” section, but it is obvious that much of the information in the chapter came from additional sources that are not listed either as footnotes or in the Suggested Reading section.

Ms. Coleman presents some interesting information. I appreciated the link to a list of colleges that have closed, merged or changed names. The list of German newspapers by town and timeframe is helpful. And, her information on Institutions and Hospitals, including mental facilities, poor houses and prisons is interesting. The Wars and Military Records section is quite complete. The section on Schools focuses on higher education with very little mention of the country schools and no mention of where country school records may be found. The sections on Cemeteries and City Directories are minimal. The section that lists county histories definitely misses one for Warren County and one for Kossuth County, which makes me wonder how many others are omitted.

The author uses many tinyURL‘s to simplify finding websites, but I found some of these links are broken, and would have much preferred the actual website URL. For example, I tried to locate the list of defunct colleges for which records were transferred to the University of Iowa, but the link was broken (p. 167).

This is a large, unwieldy book that is too heavy (nearly 3 pounds) to place in a lap to read. This guide would be easier to read if the author used a 2-column format with smaller font size. Also, she uses many full-page examples of documents that can be easily found on various websites, such as IAGenWeb, Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org. With better formatting and layout, this book would be physically more manageable.

I wonder if most of the research for this book was done at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City and online, not on-site in Iowa’s wonderful libraries and court houses, or by talking with the people who use the records on a regular basis.

Ms. Coleman is a professional genealogy researcher, writer and lecturer in North Platte, Nebraska. She can be contacted at rvcole@charter.net or via her website at http://genealogyworks.weebly.com.

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What a surprise! Not all immigrants from Sweden were Lutheran!

Recently I found a book at the Iowa Genealogical Society Library that broadened my horizons.

Ahlstrom, L. J. Eighty Years of Swedish Baptist Work in Iowa, 1853-1933. Des Moines, Iowa: The Swedish Baptist Conference of Iowa, June 1933.

This book is amazing. It contains hundreds of names: the organizers, the pastors, and many of the members of the churches. For many of the churches it gives the date of initial baptisms for early members. It contains dozens of photographs of members, churches, and parsonages. It also tells about the faith struggles of the believers in Sweden and the physical struggles of the immigrants after arriving in America.

The first several chapters provide detailed histories of several churches:

Chapter II: The First Swedish Baptist Church, Rock Island, Illinois. Organized August 13, 1852. Last official meeting March 30, 1930. pp. 36-68.

Chapter III: Village Creek Swedish Baptist Church. Organized August 10, 1853. This is in northeast Iowa, Allamakee County. pp. 69-100.

Chapter IV: Burlington and New Sweden Churches. Burlington Swedish Baptist Church. Organized March 26, 1854. pp. 101-124.

Chapter V: Stratford Swedish Baptist Church. (Swede Bend.) Organized August 28, 1856. pp 125-137.

Chapter VI: Swedish Baptist Church, Kiron, Crawford County. Organized August 16, 1868. pp. 138-168.

Chapter VII: First Swedish Baptist Church, Forest City. Organized in the Summer of 1869. pp 169-183.

Chapter VIII: Central Baptist Church, Sioux City, Woodbury County. (First Swedish Baptist Church.) Organized January 17, 1875. pp. 184-206.

Chapter IX: Woodlawn Baptist Church, Burlington. (First Swedish Baptist Church.) Organized June 13, 1881. pp. 207-216.

Chapter X: Penn Avenue Baptist Church, Des Moines. (First Swedish Baptist Church.) Organized October 18, 1881. pp. 217-236.

Chapter XI: The Swedish Baptist Church of Arthur. Organized October 25, 1885. pp. 237-251.

Chapter XII: The Grand Avenue Baptist Church, Davenport. Organized March 10, 1889. pp. 252-265.

Chapter XIII: Disbanded Churches. pp. 266-283.

Meriden Swedish Baptist Church. Organized September 27, 1869. pp. 266-267.
Denison Swedish Baptist Church. Organized February 12, 1871. About 1885 most of the members moved away; no property or treasury to be divided. p. 268
The Swedish Baptist Church at Lucas. Organized on August 6, 1876. The chapel was struck by lightning and burned down, 1900, and was never rebuilt. pp. 268-270.
The Swea Swedish Baptist Church, Kossuth County. Organized January 21, 1878. In 1924 the church disbanded and the property sold. pp. 270-273.
Gowrie Swedish Baptist Church. Organized March 17, 1884. On September 30, 1931, the church disbanded and the property was turned over to the Conference. pp. 274-277.
The Swedish Baptist Church at Creston. Organized August 26, 1885. February 27, 1925, the church disbanded and the members joined the American Baptist church at Creston. pp. 277-279.
First Swedish Baptist Church at Clinton. Organized February 16, 1886. pp. 279-281.
Swedish Baptist Church of Council Bluffs. Organized May 21, 1893. On March 5, 1919, the organized disbanded and turned the property over to the State Conference. pp. 281-183.
Churches at Moingona, Boone, Centerville, Slater, Foster and Marshalltown are also disbanded. p. 283.

The next five chapters give biographies of the people who were significant in founding the churches in Iowa:

Chapter XV: Gustav Palmquist. A Biography, b. May 26, 1812; d. September 18, 1867. In American from 1851 to 1857. pp. 295-321.

Chapter XVI: Anders Wiberg. A Biography, b. July 17, 1816; d. November 5, 1887. pp. 322-339.

Chapter XVII: Fredrik Olaus Nilsson. A Biography; b. July 28, 1809; d. October 21, 1881. pp. 340-385.

Chapter XVIII: Robert E. Jeanson, A Biography, b. July 3, 1832; d. May 30, 1920. [The founder of Swea City in Kossuth County.] pp. 386-402.

Chapter XIX: Frank Peterson. A Biography, b. November 19, 1847; d. July 30, 1930. pp. 403-414.

This book was especially interesting because my father’s hometown was Swea City, in Kossuth County. His father was 100% Swedish and Lutheran. Based on my Swedish Lutheran background, I thought all Swedes were Lutheran. This book was enlightening.

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Subtitle: “The Biography of Grant Wood’s American Masterpiece”

Former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City (1967-1977), Thomas Hoving walks the reader through a step-by-step analysis of the famous painting, teaching the reader techniques to use when viewing any painting. He also provides detail about the artist and how the masterpiece fits into Grant Wood’s career.

The book is easy to read, even if the reader is not familiar with the other paintings and artists (mostly European) the author uses for example and comparison. (I simply skimmed past the art I wasn’t familiar with.)

After reading the book I can see the optical illusion in the fork, the reflection of the fork in the overalls, the shadows indicating time of day, the elongated facial ovals and other vertical elements, the oversized hand and long thumb holding the inadequate fork, the lighting rod bulb replicated in the man’s shirt collar button, the ringlet of hair that escaped the tight hairstyle, the rickrack and calico of the woman’s dress, the lace curtains in the window, the common snake plant and begonias on the porch, the stylized background trees, the peaked roof that points to the man and woman, the value of repetition, and many other details I would have never seen. Most importantly I understand the need for the Gothic window and the staunch farmer and woman.

I have found it particularly interesting that Grant Wood felt he needed to copy the impressionists and to study in Europe, then realized he needed to paint what he already knew–the farm life of the Middle West, becoming a leader in the Regionalist movement. Which reminds me, there are even hints of movement in the painting.

I enjoyed the book and recommend it to even the novice art observer wanting to better understand this masterpiece. This book was recommended by the staff at the American Gothic House that I wrote about earlier.

Be sure to read the endnotes. I read them after reading the rest of the book; the endnotes could be distracting if read while enjoying the book.


Hoving, Thomas. “American Gothic, The Biography of Grant Wood’s American Masterpiece.” New York: Chamberlain Bros., a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. 2005.

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Subtitle: “An Orphan Train Story”

Ethel obviously did her research as she prepared to write this historically accurate account. Because of the author’s skilled character development, the reader easily identifies with Iris, Rosie and Pete as they experience the streets of New York City, an orphanage, the train ride westward, and some ominous family situations in which they find themselves in Iowa.

Considered “Young Adult/Historical Fiction” this book is an easy-to-read, page turner. Readers are surprised with unexpected twists and turns in the plot, which should hold the attention of the intended audience, as well as those of us in older generations.

Other strengths of this novel include the appropriateness of the language of the characters and the author’s attention to all kinds of detail.

I rarely read fiction, so it was a stretch for me to finally open the pages of this book. The author’s husband, Ed, is a distant relative of mine. I don’t know either Ethel or Ed, but I know Ed’s two brothers quite well. So, when one of those brothers was selling her book, I felt I needed to buy it. Then, it took me a couple months for this book to reach the top of my “to read” stack. Once I started reading, I couldn’t put it down. Then, my husband had the same experience. We both read it in less than a week… in between our many other activities.

This story has “staying” power. I keep thinking about the orphan train children and the myriad of good and not-so-good, sometimes downright ugly, situations following that westward train ride… over which the children had virtually no control.

Thanks, Ethel!


Barker, Ethel. For the Love of Pete. North Liberty, Iowa: Ice Cube Press, LLC, 2012.

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I’m a Jane Fonda fan. Jane is approximately ten years older than me. I think it’s sort of a generation, admiration thing.

A few years ago I read her autobiography My Life So Far. When I retired, I started doing one of her exercise DVDs five mornings a week (“Fit and Strong”). Then a couple months ago, I added a second DVD each morning (“Walk Out”). When I discovered her 2011 book Prime Time, I ordered it. I finished reading it last week.

Subtitle is “Love, health, sex, fitness, friendship, spirit. Making the most of all of your life.” Wow, that’s really inclusive! And, yes, she covers a lot of ground in this book.

Every woman nearing retirement, or in retirement, should read this book. To write this book, Jane did her homework. In her easy-to-read style, Jane presents new, very healthy, perspectives on old age, “Act III” as she calls it. She quotes many experts and she breaks down technical terms for lay understanding. In essence, she says, in Act III we are done rehearsing, this is it, the final act, and we have to get it right or we will be left with regrets.

As I look back at my underlining and notes in the book, some of my highlights are: stay positive, keep learning, reinvent yourself, eat right, exercise, develop friendships, enjoy your partner, reduce stress, be prepared, care and nurture, become an advocate, meditate, leave a footprint, get it right.

This is what the book is all about. The subtitle says it all!


Fonda, Jane. My Life So Far. New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2006.
Fonda, Jane. Prime Time. New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2011.

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