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Middling Folk: Three Seas, Three Centuries, One Scots-Irish Family Kindle Edition

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Length: 384 pages Word Wise: Enabled

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

From North Ayrshire, Scotland, to Northern Ireland to various locations throughout North America, a middle-class family named Hammill is documented with stringent attention to detail by Matthews, founder of Chicago Review Press and a Hammill family descendant. Weaving historical prose with mawkish (though clearly set-off) sections of fictions of my own devising, Matthews attempts to illustrate a multigenerational drama in order to convey the history of ordinary people. The best documented family history begins with John Hammill, who left Northern Ireland for Maryland colony in 1725, yet even here the author occasionally injects a personal note (I hope that Lucretia rose above her housewife's dismay). Matthews is at her best relating major events that draw on primary sources, such as the transcript of the post–Civil War trial of Virginian Hugh Hammill, charged with providing a boat to the Confederates, or the trek west made by William and Lucretia Hammill in the 1880s. Matthews succeeds in showing that the Hammill family passed along its preferences through several generations, yet fails to validate her dubious claim that if more people... retrieved and told their family stories to see what they reveal—well, this would be a better world.... Illus., maps. (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


"Matthews is a graceful writer, providing the necessary historical facts and documentations while keeping us squarely focused on the people and their stories . . . Simply splendid."  —Booklist, starred review

"A deeply felt, illuminating narrative."  —Kirkus Reviews

"A richly textured, strongly researched and documented, beautifully written family history that any student of Americana will find irresistible. The 'novelistic' inventions that punctuate Matthews's historical narrative are uncannily evocative. A wonderful book!"  —Christopher Herbert, Chester D. Tripp Professor of Humanities, Northwestern University

"An often poignant story that is both instructive and witty—and likely to impel many to take a closer look at their own family trees."  —Larry Lockridge, professor of English, New York University; author, Shade of the Raintree: The Life and Death of Ross Lockridge, Jr.

"Middling Folk examines generations of a middle class family and in so doing opens a window to a part of America's history that has long been missing." —Katherine Bateman, author, Kentucky Clay: Eleven Generations of a Southern Dynasty

Product Details

  • File Size: 2021 KB
  • Print Length: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Chicago Review Press (November 1, 2009)
  • Publication Date: November 1, 2009
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B008XCDRS4
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #751,116 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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More About the Author

Born and raised in Portland, Oregon, Linda H. Matthews grew up in a modest middle-class family near Madison High School, which she attended. Her mother was a first-grade teacher and her father worked for the FHA. Linda graduated from Reed College, an eye- and mind-opening experience for a naive Portland girl, and then studied at Tufts University before moving to the Chicago area, where she has lived most of her adult life. After brief interludes teaching medieval literature at Northwestern University and managing a small Chicago bookstore, Linda cofounded Chicago Review Press along with her husband, Curt. She was publisher there until 2005, when she stepped down in order to research and write Middling Folk, her second book. In the 1970s she coauthored The Balancing Act: A Career and a Family, which made something of a stir as women first began combining a professional career with raising children. Linda enjoys contributing articles to historical newsletters, practicing yoga, and working in her vegetable garden. She has three excellent grown-up children and four equally promising grandchildren. Linda and her husband have lived for many years in Evanston, Illinois, where she loves the trees and lake but misses--of course--the hills and rivers of the west.
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Jill Meyer TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 5, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I don't think Linda Matthews' book would appeal to many readers, but for those who enjoy family histories, with a little social commentary thrown into the mix, I can highly recommend it. Matthews, interested in her father's family history after receiving notebooks he and his sister had put together, traces the Hammell family from its beginning - seemingly - in Norman France. The family first settled in southern Scotland, and then when opportunity struck, moved to the Ulster counties of Northern Ireland. Then, in the 1600's, they took advantage of opportunities in the American colonies, and settled, and for the most part, prospered in the Maryland/Virginia areas near what is now Washington DC. Finally, after the Civil War, Matthews' great-grandfather, Hugh Hammell, left Virginia and, after a short stop in Kansas, finally settled in Washington State. Her book ends with her grand-father's generation.

Matthews calls her book "Middling Folk" because she believes that her father's family has always been middle-class. Never particularly wealthy, most members of the Hammill family were educated, from their days in Scotland and Ireland. Their education gave them an entree, in most cases, into middle-class professions. Most were businessmen - women never worked outside the home - working as mill owners, teachers, lawyers, ministers, hotel owners. A couple of the men were quite successful for their times, but losing much of their wealth due to conditions outside their control. One lived in contested territory in Northern Virginia during the Civil War. Another opened up a mill in Washington State and depended on grain to mill from land not suited to raise grain.

One very interesting point was the very randomness of life in past centuries.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Kitten Kisser VINE VOICE on September 10, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is not at all what I expected. I thought it would be written more like a nonfiction novel rather than a history timeline. The author is writing about her own family history & using the info. she gathered from her family. She goes back very far. I'm sure to her, the story is extremely interesting. After all, it is in a way about her.
My problem is it reads as a choppy broken History lesson. I guess this is because she doesn't have all the information. She admits that she adds in fiction to fill in the gaps to make it more interesting. I thought this would add to the book & make it more enjoyable. When I got to her first fiction part, I didn't care for the way it was put in the book & I don't feel it went with it. It was like suddenly having a little story in the middle of all these dates & clipped bits of info. It just didn't flow. She clearly indicates that what you are reading is her little interpretation of how she feels things might have been when she fills in the gap. Anyway, I gave up. Simply not my cup of tea & I wouldn't recommend it to anyone.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Tetsu Uma VINE VOICE on September 12, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
In Middling Folk, Linda Matthews tells the story of her middle class family from their roots in Scotland, through immigration to colonial America and life in Virginia through the Civil War and final settlement in Washington State in the latter part of the 19th Century. While not a scholarly work, it does show extensive research. The author does quite a bit of speculation on events based on small details discovered in records but makes a point to identify speculation. The short sections where she writes first person narratives for past figures are mildly entertaining but neither add or detract from the overall story.

I particularly liked the section on the family's time in Prince William County, VA. I recently relocated to Price William County myself and find the bits of local history bring the area to life.

Matthews makes no pretentions that her family is anything but middle class, which makes the book all the better. She shows the little places where her family has left a lasting memory such as a park named for the family's mill or an old plaque in an even older church in Charles County, MD. She does nothing to hide her ancestors' slave ownership but uses it to show their failings, the same as their 18th and 19th Century neighbors in Maryland and Virginia. What Matthews does accomplish is to make an entertaining story out of her otherwise unremarkable family which goes to show that with the right presentation, any of our families is worthy of a history. An entertaining read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Jeanne Lockridge Mueller on September 28, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Anyone who loved Laurel Ulrich's "A Midwife's Tale" will love this book.

Middling Folk, if anything, is an even more remarkable feat: the author reconstructs past worlds at every stop of her family, from Scotland and Ireland in the 17th century, to Maryland and Virginia in the 18th and 19th centuries, to the Pacific Northwest, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Like Ulrich, Matthews constructs some worlds, especially the earlier ones, from often slender evidence, meticulously presented and interpreted. The author is a remarkable detective; she lays out her evidence with enormous care and lets us into her thinking before she draws a conclusion. So we have the pleasure of observing both the process and the outcome of historical thinking. The only "novelization" is set apart typographically from the rest of the text--brief and brilliant forays into the mind of one of the people she has been describing, bringing into vivid focus a critical moment along the route of the family's migration. Their lives are played out against the sweep of history, which she sketches with remarkable economy, giving us a clear sense of the forces that shape their lives and propel them forward.

The author's voice is crisp, witty, and unsentimental, yet passionately engaged with her subject. Her prose evokes a powerful sense of place, as if you are standing beside her looking out at the same landscapes. Why should we care about the Hammill family she is reconstructing from legal documents, ruins of homesteads, place-names, and cemeteries? Because they are like us. Their motivations are our motivations; we recognize them as ourselves.
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