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Family Trees: A History of Genealogy in America

I got this book for free from the press after I’d done some galley reviewing for them. Took me a long time both to get to it to read, and also to read it. It’s a great book but a lot more academicky than I was expecting. I think I was expecting a lot more of a pop history of genealogy. Stuff like “looking things up on websites” which is a lot of how I do family research, was just the last few pages of the last chapter. What this book does talk about, however, is why genealogy became such a big deal in the United States and who was doing it. The author, who is French, spends a lot of time looking at what drove people to look up family information, what motivated them. In some cases this was straightforward goals like membership in societies or getting access to estates or pedigrees. In other cases it was more making sure the people in your background were the “right” sort of people. The author spends some time talking about the historical racism of the United States and how that played a part in a lot of this.