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Jacob's Well

A Case for Rethinking Family History

Joseph A. Amato

Publication Year: 2008

Joseph A. Amato follows his own poor, obscure, and truly "mongrel" family through seven generations, revealing their place in the key events of America's past. Using powerful family traditions to clarify his personal connection to the larger stories of our nation, Amato advocates for the power of the history closest at hand in building personal identity and resisting mass culture.

Published by: Minnesota Historical Society Press


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pp. A

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. iii-v


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pp. vii

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PREFACE Family History,A Way to Know Our Selves and Our Times

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pp. ix-xvi

Family is the well of self. It makes childhoods, imprints memories, and offers models for a lifetime. Doing family history is a way to investigate its powers, to take control of personal history. It provides a distinct type of self-knowledge, which is timely and even...

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Introduction Putting on the Coat of the Past

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pp. 3-14

I put on the tattered but many-colored coat of my mongrel family past. Formed on North American shores for more than 250 years, my family was woven out of strands of Sicilian mountaineers, French Acadian swamp dwellers, English Midlanders, West Prussian farmers,...

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1 Rosalia, a Misery as Ancient as Sicily [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 15-42

The ethnicity or class we claim as ours, either reflexively or by conscious choice, provides us an identity, a past, and an inheritance. It can also distort our writing and rob us of a living past. We must forever take care lest, in our desire to magnify and monumentalize, we trade real persons...

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2“Forty Acres, and All Mine” [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 43-62

Of the multitude of homes my grandmother Frances Boodry Linsdeau owned during my youth, she showed her greatest enthusiasm for the forty‑acre place she owned “up north.” This phrase held for southern Michiganders living in Detroit all the magic...

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3Banished from Acadia,Exiled in Plymouth Colony

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pp. 63-86

Genealogy holds wonderful surprises. Defying those who seek pure racial, ethnic, and moral identities as rulers or victims, it makes us a wonderfully mixed breed. A search for roots delights those who like...

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4Up and Down the Hills of Maine,and Off to Wisconsin

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pp. 87-104

In colonial America, as was the case in Pierre’s Acadia or Rosalia’s Sicily, the family household functioned as a commonwealth unto itself. The family braided together human biology and culture. Ever subject to matters of reproduction, nutrition, shelter, and care, the household...

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5Migrants West

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pp. 105-125

An ethnic accounting of the marriage in 1867 of Sylvester Boodry’s son James to Ellen Frances Sayers, the fourth daughter of Leonard Sayers, could be depicted as a synthesis of the two great and opposing families of Europe, the French and English. However, this betrays, as...

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6A Memorable Death, a Common Lot [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 126-146

In the Old Testament, a man’s “lot” in life was literally the land assigned to him, and so in times following, the land a man owned determined his fate.1 I was especially drawn to the lot of my grandmother’s...

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7Jacob,the Rise and Fall of a Plebian Patriarch [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 147-175

My mother’s stories carved a special corner in my heart for Jacob, the grandfather she called Jake. Her anecdotes about him animated his memory. I still cannot return to Menasha, on the southwest end of Lake Winnebago, with its canals and bridges, mills, bars, and...

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8Cousins of the Tongue [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 176-199

Ethel bubbled over with energy and enthusiasm. Pert and perky, she verged on stuttering when she talked. Her wit and lip often outraced reason, her anger and generosity constantly outpaced her good sense. Keenly aware of her own physical energy and buoyancy,...

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9Workers to the Bone,East Siders to the End [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 200-240

My parents, Ethel and Joe, had an abiding loyalty to family. Their first obligations were to each other and to me. Their principal lifetime occupation was securing and maintaining a home in which Joe was the breadwinner and Ethel, the homemaker. Their second...

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conclusion The Reason For,and The Matter Of, Family History

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pp. 241-246

I begin this conclusion with a three-part confession. First, I plead guilty to having ended this work in a state of ecstasy and exhaustion. I have taken too much of my family into myself and, at least for the time being, depleted my empathy and imagination....


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pp. 247-250

Source Notes

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pp. 251-280

E-ISBN-13: 9780873516754
E-ISBN-10: 0873516753
Print-ISBN-13: 9780873516136
Print-ISBN-10: 0873516133

Page Count: 268
Publication Year: 2008

Edition: 1

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Amato family.
  • Genealogy -- Authorship.
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