How literature may add to family history

Hofstra, Jill: Edwina, A memoir of childhood through the eyes of a woman, Bloomington 2005 (AuthorHouse-Self Publishing).

Edwina and her childhood seem like scenes of an old film. One of the nostalgic black-and-white ones from the penultimate turn of the century. On the cinema-screen of about 1905 and following years, appear the first trolley trams in Jamaica Plain, a southern suburb of the City of Boston. These streetcars mean danger for little girls like Edwina who are lucky at least, if the cow catcher protects them from being overrun by the electric vehicle. I did not know the term nor did I have a visual imagination. Now I have.

The first Ford T models frighten people in the streets of Jamaica Plain. Of course the neighborhood’s women still are not accustomed to buy their clothes in department stores. So Edwina’s mother, a widow, is able to earns her living by exercising the profession of a domestic dressmaker, working partly at home, but also for weeks at some families’ homes. We get to know many of the neighborhood people. And the most important informations for the family historian are often hidden within dependent clauses. So a young neighbor who travels from Boston to Seattle takes the route round Cap Horn. Amazing! but obviously not extraordinary for that time. Panama Canal did not open earlier than 1914. But why did he not go by train? This enigma keeps to be solved.

The family researcher receives a lot of more wonderful details about daily life at that time. When I discovered this book I was about writing an essay on a branch of my own Bostonian family. Of course it was a special highlight for me, when I learned, that daughter and grandsons of the forty-eighter Frederick B. Teuthorn had been neighbors of Edwina and her mother Clara McNeill. So I could add the contemporaneous local smell to my story.

I just added this small review to Amazon’s. My own essay hopefully will be edited later this year.



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