Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Friday, December 21, 2012

Reunion, A Search for Ancestors by Ryan Littrell - A Book Review

Every day, I watch the parade of posts on websites such as and One post today, on, caught my eye. The person posting the note had a goal to read 60 books during the coming year. There were times during my life when I read that many books in a month or less. I have to admit, that the quantity of my book reading has diminished somewhat over the years. The main reason being the abundance of non-book type text.

Recently, I have received some invitations to review new books. In this particular case, author Ryan Littrell asked me to review his book Reunion, A Search for Ancestors. The book is widely available through his website,, and many online retailers.

The book is a chronicle of Ryan's investigations leading to the discovery of his Scottish ancestors. The book alternates chapters that establish the historical context of the Scottish clans and Ryan's investigations concerning his ancestry. It is an interesting and insightful journey of personal discovery. One of the main messages of the book to genealogical researchers, is the importance of placing your ancestors within the context of the time when they lived.

The chapters of the book dealing with genealogical research give a realistic portrayal of the process that all genealogists must go through to learn not only the information they are seeking but also the craft of becoming a genealogist. The book is not intended to be a didactic treatise but more of an unfolding of personal discovery and relationships to ancestors. Many of the issues confronting the author in his investigations are those that are common to all genealogical researching efforts. For this reason alone, the book is a valuable tool to provide an insight into the investigative process from a highly personal standpoint.

I must admit, that early on in the book I found myself wishing I had the opportunity to make some suggestions to the author to speed up his research. I for one, would have spent more time online and in record repositories. But, as the book progresses, I was impressed by the thoroughness of the research. It would've been nice however, had the author included more detailed research notes. Perhaps, those notes could be made available to interested family members in another format.

Interested genealogists can find an abundance of personal anecdotal research information online in blog posts. But, it is not often that these stories and experiences are provided with the detail in the background given in this particular book. I was also interested to read his detailed account of the relationship between DNA matching and genealogical research. I believe that this is the first time I have read a description with enough background to show the true value of the DNA material obtained from his relatives.

The book details several investigative road trips taken by the author. It was difficult for me to determine whether or not, from my own perspective, I would have made the excursions without first doing considerable homework in online and library sources. But, from the narrative, it is clear that Ryan would not have found many of the records he discovered without spending the time and effort to drive to and visit locations where his ancestors lived. Because of the availability of online material, I fear that many genealogists have neglected the need to do on-site research and this book was a very good example of the importance of visiting the locations and doing research in the local repositories.

I found the research to be well-founded, the conclusions to be convincing and the research as outlined to be a valuable pattern for any other researcher. This is a book well worth reading especially if you have Scottish ancestry, but even if your ancestors come from completely different part of the world, the methodology is well illustrated.

Thanks to Ryan Littrell for giving me the opportunity to read this book.

You might also want to see his Law Review article:

Littrell, Ryan. Toward a Stricter Originality Standard for Copyright Law. Boston College Law Review. Boston College Law School, 2002.

1 comment:

  1. James,

    Thanks for reviewing this book. I am working on a project something like this one. I hope to decide by March whether I will commit to making it a book for larger audience on how to find their ancestors based on some of the methods I used.