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Only a Few Bones: A True Account of the Rolling Fork Tragedy & Its Aftermath

20 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0970132703
ISBN-10: 0970132700
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Editorial Reviews

Family lore claimed his ancestor was murdered in Mississippi. Newspapers and court records said the man and four other victims were killed and incinerated in his remote country store. But the case was never solved. Now, after 30 years of investigating, the great great grandson of the slain carpetbagger reveals what really happened. This is a case study for how to build historical context around an ancestral event. Depicting graphically how family history and history converge.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 436 pages
  • Publisher: Direct Descent (August 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0970132700
  • ISBN-13: 978-0970132703
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #262,104 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Michael K. Smith TOP 1000 REVIEWER on July 22, 2002
Format: Paperback
It's a truism that, even among genealogists, few of us are truly interested in the details of other people's family histories. But now and then, a story comes along that is not only instructive in research methodology and interpretation of evidence, but is also an absorbing tale in its own right. And anyone who has heard Dr. Colletta lecture at a conference or speak at a banquet knows he's a born storyteller, a natural entertainer. Though he's based in Washington, the author is often identified with his hometown of Buffalo, New York, and with the subject of immigration research, but he also has Southern connections. When he first became interested in his family's history at the age of fourteen, he interviewed his grandmother and heard from her a sketchy and rather garbled account of the violent death of her own grandfather, Joseph Ring, in the fiery destruction of his store in Rolling Fork, Issaquena County, Mississippi, in 1873. (Though even most of those few facts were not known to her.) And when Joe's widow was returning to her family in the North, she was beset by another tragedy: The death of her infant son in a steamboat wreck. That was the beginning of a thirty-year quest to uncover the facts, a process Colletta describes here, step by step. Was Joe Ring killed by marauding ex-slaves? By local planters who opposed the arrival of recent immigrants? Was it bandits? Disgruntled customers? Or was it an Act of God? Reading newspaper accounts and the scant courthouse documents, tracking recollections of events in other branches of his family, walking the site of the store itself, he considered many hypotheses, eventually discarding all but one. (I won't tell you which one!) But while it sometimes reads almost like a novel, this volume is also an extended research report and every attributed personality trait or speculation on motive is accompanied by a footnote. And his conclusions are carefully bolstered by the available evidence. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Beverly on January 29, 2002
Format: Paperback
There are so many levels to John Colletta's "Only a Few Bones."
It can be read solely as a "Whodunit," and will keep the reader guessing with each new theory put forth. It's a fascinating detective story -- and it's all true.
It can be read on a historical level with its wealth of mid-19th century history in the South.
It is an excellent example of documentation. It must be a given that few books have ever been so well researched and documented.
"Only a Few Bones" can be read as the story told by a professor with a PhD in an entirely different field who could no longer ignore the calling of genealogy.
It's a quality example of using social history to flesh out the "bones" of all our ancestors.
But, most of all, "Only a Few Bones" is a fascinating read.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Linda Kleback on April 28, 2004
Format: Paperback
I've been fortunate to hear Dr. Colletta speak at several genealogy conferences. He is a master at gleaning facts from newspapers, family tales, and other sources to illustrate his family stories, and this story of trying to find the truth behind a family tragedy taught me so much about putting together a readable family book. I never even thought to look at weather reports to see what was going on the day someone was born, married, or died. In his book, Dr. Colletta weaves everyday details such as the weather in with his narrative that give it a richness and immediacy. Any genealogist who want to create a family history with more than names, dates, or places, should read this book.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By William Gann on January 28, 2002
Format: Paperback
"Only a Few Bones" is a MUST read! From the very first pages, "Bones" presents the reader with an amazing array of richly descriptive word pictures. Some almost seem fictional. Yet taken as a whole, they detail a rural Southern family's "social, political, economic, cultural and geographic conditions." These very real, but personal and emotional, images--as seen a century later by a descendant, a young man who had never been south of the Mason-Dixon line--are conveyed with sensitivity and descriptive language not ordinarily seen in a genealogical story of one's ancestors.
Colletta's use of language is exciting, bringing the everyday features of a rural family's life into an enticing and constantly revealing array of surprises. "What could possibly be next?" the reader keeps asking. But the historical and personal events of this family saga continue to unravel the family myth that the author as a teenager had heard from his grandmother as she cut out dress patterns on his mother's dining room table. Grandma's "facts" were only a part of the story; actually it was the unanswered questions that proved to be the impetus for a young genealogist's journey to an unknown area, the Mississippi Delta.
Rooted in a grandmother's stories, some of which were fact and some were mythical, "Bones" became reality to replace what for years had been a mystery: who set the fire in which great-grandfather had died? As the young, impressionable, family history seeker made his way from one small, backwater rural town to the next, to their local cafes and small-town hotels, the ghosts of the Delta--with the eventual help of newspaper accounts, census records, obituaries--began to reveal more and more.
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