Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Telling HerStory 2014: Half Broke Horses by Jeanette Walls

The Book:

Half Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel by Jeannette Walls 

What's it about:

Years ago, someone suggested I read Jeannette Wall’s book The Glass Castle. I initially said, no thank you, since her story of a dysfunctional family did not interest me. The person insisted and handed me the book. So out of politeness I read it and soon found myself mesmerized by Jeanette’s tale of parents who were eccentric beyond words. They raise their children in a nomadic, often homeless, impoverished life. A tale of kids who, in this day, would probably be removed from their home and placed with a foster family in the name of negligence.  Her  story is one that sticks with you. When anyone mentions the book, the first thought I have is reading about the time Jeanette’s family moved and stuck the kids, including a baby in the back of the U-haul. No, not the back seat, but the back where you put your stuff. This book leaves you wondering why on earth would parents, and especially her mother who seemed “normal,” let this happen.

The answer is found in Jeanette’s second book, Half Broke Horses. Half Broke Horses chronicles her maternal grandmother's life. However, instead of basing the tale on research, her grandmother died when she was 8 years old, she uses her mother's oral history of her grandmother's life as the basis for the book.

Why you should read it:

So at this point, you're probably thinking "what does this have to do with genealogy and researching my female ancestors?"

Wall's grandmother was a true trailblazer, she taught school starting at 15 years of age and she rode her horse, by herself across New Mexico and Arizona to her first job. Can you imagine letting your 15 year old daughter ride across 2 states, it took her about 20 days, with some money, a bedroll and a gun by herself? (This was in the early 1900s). She later travels to Chicago by herself and works as a domestic. Eventually traveling back to Arizona she becomes a school teacher again and marries Jim Smith, a son of Mormon pioneer Lot Smith.

Though I wish there was more genealogy research used in writing this book, she did refer to a family history book and a book about Lot Smith to confirm some details, it is a great example of what you can do with those family stories. Genealogists who lack the documentation that fills in the gaps of an ancestor’s life may want to consider writing a novel-like account that incorporates social history and what facts are available. Wall’s book proves that the everyday person’s life is interesting and the importance of documenting the lives of our more recent ancestors.

Additional resources:

1 comment:

Shelley Bishop said...

Half-Broke Horses is one of my favorite books, Gena! I admire the way Jeannette Walls blends fictional elements with a family history story to honor her grandmother's spirit and determination.