From the Publisher
"Matthews is a graceful writer, providing the necessary historical facts and documentations while keeping us squarely focused on the people and their stories . . . Simply splendid." Booklist, starred review
"A deeply felt, illuminating narrative." Kirkus Reviews
"A richly textured, strongly researched and documented, beautifully written family history that any student of Americana will find irresistible. The 'novelistic' inventions that punctuate Matthews's historical narrative are uncannily evocative. A wonderful book!" Christopher Herbert, Chester D. Tripp Professor of Humanities, Northwestern University
"An often poignant story that is both instructive and wittyand likely to impel many to take a closer look at their own family trees." Larry Lockridge, professor of English, New York University; author, Shade of the Raintree: The Life and Death of Ross Lockridge, Jr.
"Middling Folk examines generations of a middle class family and in so doing opens a window to a part of America's history that has long been missing." Katherine Bateman, author, Kentucky Clay: Eleven Generations of a Southern Dynasty
From North Ayrshire, Scotland, to Northern Ireland to various locations throughout North America, a middle-class family named Hammill is documented with stringent attention to detail by Matthews, founder of Chicago Review Press and a Hammill family descendant. Weaving historical prose with mawkish (though clearly set-off) sections of “fictions of my own devising,” Matthews attempts to illustrate a multigenerational drama in order to convey the history of ordinary people. The best documented family history begins with John Hammill, who left Northern Ireland for Maryland colony in 1725, yet even here the author occasionally injects a personal note (“I hope that Lucretia rose above her housewife's dismay”). Matthews is at her best relating major events that draw on primary sources, such as the transcript of the post–Civil War trial of Virginian Hugh Hammill, charged with providing a boat to the Confederates, or the trek west made by William and Lucretia Hammill in the 1880s. Matthews succeeds in showing that “the Hammill family passed along its preferences” through several generations, yet fails to validate her dubious claim that “if more people... retrieved and told their family stories to see what they reveal—well, this would be a better world....” Illus., maps. (Nov.)
Matthews is a graceful writer, providing the necessary historical facts and documentations while keeping us squarely focused on the people and their stories . . . Simply splendid.
Chicago Review Press cofounder and former publisher Matthews traces her family history, uncovering an ordinary family's place in, and effect on, history. The author acknowledges that history is blurry and often imperfect, but she recounts the undisputed facts of her ancestry with a historian's precision and fills in the blanks and the probables with a novelist's imagination. Matthews charts an ordinary family, the Hammills, back centuries, as they made their way from southwest Scotland to Northern Ireland, then to the Chesapeake Bay region of North America, and finally on to the Pacific Northwest. In each setting and time period, the middle-class Hammills were literate and adaptable, comfortable with social structure and respected in their communities. As pioneers they seized opportunities presented to them. They were businessmen, clerks, lawyers, blacksmiths, wagon builders and lumber and flour millers. Matthews diligently follows them through historical and social events and shifts: mass migrations, religious persecutions, loss of ancestral lands, the American Revolution, slavery and the Civil War, westward expansion and economic depressions and booms. She illustrates how these major historical events affected the often-overlooked ordinary folk, and vice versa. As the family cyclically passes through the private dramas of births and deaths, weddings and funerals, hopes and disappointments, gains and losses, the author unassumingly taps into the natural rhythm of life and history, drawing numerous universal conclusions about family, ancestry and social interaction. A deeply felt, illuminating narrative, ranging from textbook historical accounts to personal reflections.