Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Book Review - "If This Land Could Talk" by Judy R. Cook
The publicity for the book says (in part):
"Millions of settlers flocked westward for homesteads, taking advantage of the free land opened to settlement by the expanding railroads. Few remained there, but author Judy Cook's family never lost faith in the land. Cook's Dakota roots inspire this compelling story of her grandparents homesteading experiences in North Dakota.
"If This Land Could Talk provides a riveting look at three generations of life on the northern plains, where Cook spent her formative years. Her candid portrayal brings to life her four grandparents, who carved a living from the inhospitable prairie, and her parents, who continued to farm on the same land. She offers a poignant yet entertaining glimpse into her ancestors' daily lives. The author recounts growing up on the same land in the 1950s, shaped by a way of life long since vanished.
"Based on meticulous research, personal experiences and stories passed from family to family, If This Land Could Talk resonates with a powerful sense of place, an enduring love of the land, and reverence for the family."
Judy Cook traces the lives of her grandparents and her parents through a mixture of local history and family stories, and her own life story. Kidder County, North Dakota has a population density of 2 persons per square mile. Think about it - the neighbors were far away, it was almost always cold, roads were often impassable, electrification didn't occur until the 1950s, services were in distant towns, etc. These situations contributed to the hardiness, the sense of personal responsibility, and the feelings of satisfaction of the settlers as they created homes and businesses, and lived their lives on the prairie.
We meet the four grandparents one at a time, and learn their life stories:
* Adria Williams (born in Dakota Territory, but her family was from colonial New England) became a schoolteacher and then the Kidder County Superintendent of Schools.
* Thomas Arthur Price (born in Michigan, but his father was from England) homesteaded in 1905 and became Sheriff of Kidder County in 1915. He married Adria in 1919 at the age of 50, and they had two children, including Bruce Arthur Price, Judy's father. For a period of time during the early 1930s, they lived in California but moved back to North Dakota as the Great Depression wore on.
* Gustav Shirley (born in Minnesota of Norwegian parents) homesteaded in 1905 also, and brought his first family soon after to live in a tent. His first wife died, and he married again.
* Petra Hanson (born in Norway, immigrated alone to America) became a live-in helper during the illness of Gust's first wife, and married him in 1911, and they had nine children, including Judy's mother, Evelyn Shirley.
I really enjoyed this book. Using short chapters, Judy introduces her family members and tells their stories in a way that conveys how life was really like for the times. The reader feels a witness to local history and family history while understanding the events and forces that molded the people and their communities. Judy's early life experiences were much different from my own, and it was interesting to see how she thrived in her surroundings, and how she appreciates the life lessons learned.
The stories continue through the lives of the grandparents and then into the lives of Judy's parents, and then to Judy's life experiences in North Dakota. She says "I carry within my DNA my grandparents' love for the land. My rural heritage stirs in my soul. I am and always will be a farmer's daughter."
This is the kind of book that many genealogists wish that they could write so as to further their family's interest in family and local history. It is a fine example of what a talented writer can produce about "normal life" and "non-famous" ancestors.
Judy R. Cook
If This Land Could Talk; Homesteading on the Northern Plains
New York, Bloomington.
ISBN: 978-1-9352-7897-9 (paperback).
The book is available in Perfect Soft Cover, as an eBook, or as a hardbound book on the iUniverse website, on Amazon.com, and at Barnes and Noble's website.
Disclosure: Judy Cook contacted me via email and offered a complimentary review copy of her book, which I accepted. The opinions expressed in this review are my own, and I received no compensation for the review. I will donate the book to my local library so that other genealogists have the opportunity to read it.
Thank you, Judy, for sharing your family stories with us!