Before My Time is about the ancestry and extended family of my four grandparents: John Samuel Krentz (Indiana/North Dakota), Margreta Tjode Hedwig (Gertie) Buss (North Dakota), Rosmer Pettis Kerr (Pennsylvania/Michigan), and Evelyn Elvina Hauer (Michigan), and other topics in genealogy and family history.

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Monday, September 07, 2009

Madness and Desire

The second book in my little stack of Sedgwick histories is called In My Blood: Madness and Desire in an American Family (HarperCollins, c. 2007). Written by John Sedgwick, another descendant of Judge Theodore Sedgwick and a cousin of Edie, this book is a study of what seems to be a genetic predisposition to manic depression in the Sedgwick family. But it's much more than that. It's a personal history, a family history and, in the telling of Theodore's story, a history of the early days of this country. However, it's quite unlike any dry, boring history book you might have had to choke down in school. Dare I call it a page-turner?

Yeah, why not? I turned every page, and as you may already know, I am not usually much of a reader, most especially of anything one might read about in a history class. But where your history textbook might tell you about what happened to an army, this book tells you about what happened to a guy. One particular guy. And history textbook readers may find this hard to believe, but the guy had a wife (or three!) and a mess o' kids! And personal drama! Yes, Virginia, there were real people involved in the American Revolution! Who knew?

The story of Theodore Sedgwick (1746-1813), his marriages, and his children fills the first half of this 400-page book, and their story is laid upon a framework of American nation-building that the patriarch of this family took part in. The remainder of the book follows succeeding generations and the legacy of ambition and madness handed down until it reached the author himself. A descendancy chart at the front of the book helps the reader keep track of who's who.

Due in part to the historical prominence of the Sedgwick family, great huge volumes of paperwork--documents, letters, published materials--have been preserved. John Sedgwick did an enormous amount of research for this work, and then somehow managed to make it read like a novel.

Despite the theme of manic depression which unifies the two-and-a-half-century timespan of individual histories in this book, I enjoyed reading it much more than the book I wrote about last week. My only wish is that there had been more than the fourteen photographs which were included. I was glad I hadn't returned Edie: An American Biography to the library yet, as there were about three dozen relevant family photographs in the first third of that book.

I enthusiastically recommend In My Blood not only to Sedgwick descendants but to anyone interested in an up-close, personal view of the American Revolution era, to genealogists and family historians who hope to write a family history of their own, and to anyone interested in mental health issues that have a genetic component.

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Blog Archive


Our Family in Books: A Bibliography

  • My Ancestors in Books (a library of resources and notes pertaining to Reverend Samuel Stone, Major General Robert Sedgwick, Elder John Crandall, and other early Americans in the forest where my family tree was grown)
  • The Zahnisers: A History of the Family in America by Kate M. Zahniser and Charles Reed Zahniser (Mercer, Pa. 1906)
  • History of St. James Lutheran Church [full title: A little of this and a little of that in the 141 year (1861-2002) History of St. James Lutheran Church, Reynolds Indiana] by Harold B. Dodge, published at Reynolds, Indiana, 2002; 170 pages.
  • Lisbon, North Dakota 1880-2005 Quasuicentennial, published at Lisbon, North Dakota in 2005; 391 pages.
  • The Paschen and Redd Families of Cass County, Indiana by Alfred Paschen, c. 2005 (Gateway Press, Inc., Baltimore, MD); 322 pages.
  • Sheldon Community History: Sheldon Centennial 1881-1981, published at Sheldon, North Dakota in 1981; 376 pages.
  • Sheldon, North Dakota 1881-2006 - 125th Anniversary: The Queen of the Prairie, published at Sheldon, North Dakota in 2006; 498 pages.
  • A Standard History of White County, Indiana, written under the supervision of W.H. Hamelle, c. 1915 (The Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago and New York).
  • The Roots of Coventry, Connecticut by Betty Brook Messier and Janet Sutherland Aronson, c. 1987 (Coventry 275th Anniversary Committee, Coventry, CT); 206 pages.
  • "Elder John Crandall of Rhode Island and His Descendants" by John Cortland Crandall; New Woodstock, New York, 1949; 797 pages.
  • "The Descendants of Robert Burdick of Rhode Island." Nellie (Willard) Johnson, Pd.B.: H & L Creations, LLC.

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