Also, this month's giveaway, on troubled ancestors. And music, books, and stories I'm thinking about.
Sometimes an ancestor experienced harm and also inflicted harm. My ninth great-grandmother Mary Parsons was accused of being a witch in seventeenth-century Massachusetts. The image above is a record of her testimony in the lead-up to the criminal prosecution, which also involved inspecting her body for “witch marks.” Years after the trial, Mary and her family defended her reputation by persecuting an enslaved Black woman who’d called Mary a witch. They used religion as a sword and a shield, as Mary’s own tormenters did. I write about this history, and its echoes across generations of my family, in (my upcoming book) Ancestor Trouble.
Every month until publication next March, I’m giving away a set of books, in thanks for pre-orders. This month’s mini-library includes three books on beliefs about spiritual reckonings with troubled ancestors: Restless Dead: Encounters Between the Living and the Dead in Ancient Greece; The Ancient Roman Afterlife: Di Manes, Belief, and the Cult of the Dead; and Of Water and the Spirit: Ritual, Magic and Initiation in the Life of an African Shaman. Details for entering are below.
And some recommendations and miscellany:
The family face — and gesture? (from the archives).
Andile Dyalvane, on his gorgeous works of art. One recent offering, Ithongo, translates to “Ancestral Dreamscape” in Xhosa.
Books I’ve mentioned previously that are out this month: Rebecca Donner’s riveting All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days, which I had the honor of discussing with her at her launch; Honorée Fannone Jeffers’ magnificent first novel The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois (as an aperitif, I recommend her new essay “A Southern Kinship”); and Julie Klam’s The Almost Legendary Morris Sisters, which Benjamin Dreyer describes as “a (nonfiction) family mystery thriller with so many gasp-worthy twists and turns.”
“I first became interested in the Black West because my great-grandparents were settlers. They came from Louisiana to Boley, Oklahoma in 1909, shortly after statehood.” If you’re wondering what Lizzie Skurnick is working on these days, read this fascinating Twitter thread.
In my to-be-read pile: Alice Roberts’s Ancestors: A Prehistory of Britain in Seven Burials, Tiya Alicia Miles’s All that She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake, and Alex Renton’s Blood Legacy: Reckoning With a Family’s Story of Slavery.
I’m looking forward to Tanaïs’s In Sensorium: Notes for my People, out next February.
Another to anticipate, down the road: Latria Graham’s Uneven Ground.
Ancestry.com changed its terms of service to say it could use subscribers’ photos in perpetuity. Then it backtracked, sort of, but if others pick up your public photos, not really. If you’d like to delete your photos, here’s how one subscriber is doing it.
To enter, pre-order my book, Ancestor Trouble. (All preorders, whether before or after this newsletter, count. Official requests to your library to purchase the book for borrowers count, too.) If you’d like a signed or personalized copy, place order with Greenlight Bookstore and be sure to include the details of your request in your order comments at checkout. Send the receipt in reply to this newsletter or as a DM to me at Twitter or Instagram. Entries must be received by August 13, at 11:59 PM (Pacific). The winner will be selected at random, notified by email, and (unless they’d rather not be named) announced on Twitter and in the next newsletter. Last month’s winner was Martha Burzynski.