Review: Memories of Union High – An Oasis in Caroline County, Virginia 1903-1969

Memories of Union High

[Editor’s note: Author Marion Woodfork Simmons will appear on tonight’s episode of GeneaBloggers Radio ( to discuss Memories of Union High.]

So why would someone who has no connections to Caroline County, Virginia or to Union High School have any interest in Memories of Union High – An Oasis in Caroline County, Virginia 1903-1969? I’m a prime example and I have to tell you that hands-down, this is not just a great read for those interested in the local history of Caroline County, but also as an example of what one can do in documenting a school or church history.

Author Marion Woodfork Simmons has triumphed in her attempt to capture the memories of Union High School from its founding to its impact on the community to its end during the desegregation movement. She also succeeds in documenting almost every aspect of “school life” including tributes to teachers and administrators from students, lists of administrators and teachers, not so speak of the abundance of photos listing, where possible, each person in the photo.

Memories of Union High is a must for any genealogist and family historian who had Caroline County, Virginia family or ancestors who attended Union High or worked there. But also, Simmons has the ability to transport you back in time and you feel like you are there in the hallways, at the assemblies, and taking part in community life.

I also want to point out how thoroughly researched Memories of Union High is: notes, bibliography and appendices. Simmons does well to ask the reader in the Author’s Notes section to first read the Historical Background before diving in to a trip down memory lane.

Finally, Memories of Union High should serve as model for what any genealogist or local historian can do in terms of a school history, a church history or other type of history of an institution. Follow Simmons’ model and methodology and not only will you create a fitting tribute to a community and its institutions, but you’ll be able to transform your research into something approachable and accessible by friends, family and the public.

Don’t let the fact that Memories of Union High is very specific in its focus deter you from buying this book. It is much more than local history . . . it is the story of how a community and its leaders through their dedication and perseverance, made an investment in their children and in their future.

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Disclosure:  I received a complimentary copy of Memories of Union High from the author. Please see Disclosure Statements for more information on my material connection with genealogy vendors and organizations.

©2012, copyright Thomas MacEntee

Review: The Van Slyke Family in America

As a descendant of Cornelis Antonissen Van Slyke (my 11th great-grandfather), I’ve always been interested in the Van Slyke family story as well as intrigued by the accounts of Ots-Toch, his Mohawk wife. Author and genealogist Lorine McGinnis Schulze has recently published a revised and updated edition of The Van Slyke Family in America: A Genealogy of Cornelise Antonissen Van Slyke, 1604-1676 and his Mohawk Wife Ots-Toch, including the story of Jacques Hertel, 1603-1651, Father of Ots-Toch and Interpreter to Samuel de Champlain which has helped me gain a better understanding of my Van Slykes as well as their place in New York history.

The Dutch in New York

Schulze’s book contains important research information not only for those related to the Van Slyke family, but also for those who seek a better understanding of Dutch ancestry in New York. My family has long roots in New York including Huguenots in New Paltz and the Dutch in Schenectady. What I appreciate most about Schulze’s work is how she provides a basic introduction to the history of the New Netherlands colony before detailing how the Van Slyke family played a role in its history. Placing my family in the context of history is what enables me to gain a “three-dimensional” perspective of their lives, going beyond the usual dimension of just names and dates.

Cornelis Van Slyke

In the revised edition of The Van Slyke Family in America, Schulze relates in detail the story of Cornelis Van Slyke, “a Dutchman who came to the New World as a carpenter at the age of 30, who became an interpreter for the Mohawk nation, was adopted into the tribe, and who met and married a French-Mohawk woman (Ots-Toch) who never left her native village. Their children, all raised at Canajoharie, one of the Mohawk castles or villages, became well-known and respected in the Dutch community. All except one left the village and married Dutch settlers.”

I found the book to be fascinating reading not just as a genealogist since it is filled with records and sources (as well as over 1,300 footnotes) but also as a history geek.  Schulze has a wonderful way of telling the history of Van Slyke and his immediate family and how they fit in with New York State history.


In the spiral-bound 278 page book, Schulze provides plenty of background on how the Dutch settled New York as well as the Mohawk tribe. An extensive genealogy report entitled Descendants of Jacques Van Slyke (son of Cornelis) takes up almost 130 pages and contains detailed source citations for various facts. Schulze rounds out The Van Slyke Family in America with detailed maps as well as copies of documents including marriage settlements for the early Van Slyke ancestors.


The Van Slyke Family in America is a book that I will be working with during the upcoming winter season as I updated my genealogy database and records. I can’t wait to see what pieces of the puzzle author Schulze has found for me and how they fit into my overall family history!

Learn more about The Van Slyke Family in America and the Van Slykes at  Order your copy at

Disclosure:  Upon request, I received a complimentary copy of The Van Slyke Family in America from the author for review purposes. Please see Disclosure Statements ( for more information on my material connection with genealogy vendors and organizations.

©2011, copyright Thomas MacEntee

Review: ObitKit™


Does the idea of writing an obituary for a loved one who is still living, or perhaps even your own obituary, make you uncomfortable? Well, it doesn’t have to be that way according to Susan Soper, author of ObitKit™  A Guide to Celebrating Your Life.

The key word in the paragraph above is celebrating. Very often an obituary is hastily written, even at times when death is expected and imminent. With ObitKit™, an easy-to-use workbook, the process is one in which you can have full input and control. Soper provides a wide-array of prompts and even touching quotes to write not only your own obituary, but even funeral programs and other items to memorialize your time here on Earth.

After a brief introduction on why Soper developed ObitKit™ and a review of the history of obituaries and death notices, it is time to sharpen your pencils (as Soper puts it) and get to work documenting a “life well-lived.” In this day of wedding planners and the ability to plan almost every aspect of life’s celebrations, why wouldn’t you want to also have control over that final celebration?

Writing a Multi-Faceted Obituary

Over the course of many pages Soper prompts you with questions about every aspect of your life, from the basic vital information all the way to your mentors and heroes. Interspersed among the prompts are examples of actual obituaries of ordinary people who lived extraordinary lives.

While I worked through the prompts, at no time did I feel uncomfortable in the writing process.  It felt like an interview in every way, shape and form. As a genealogist, I was also happy to see that Soper included prompts on family stories and traditions.

The Practical Side of Death

Also included in ObitKit™ are some common-sense and practical steps for leaving a legacy. In the chapter On a Practical Note, Soper helps you document information such as whether or not you are an organ donor, the location of your will, etc. Entering this information will make it easier for your loved ones to not only take care of details, but also let them spend more time celebrating your life rather than on a scavenger hunt for documents and details.

Be Practical and Celebrate Your Life

My favorite chapters in ObitKit™ are Planning a Service and Programs for Funerals and Memorial Services since they are not just filled with practical advice, but a variety of poems and quotes to be used in funeral programs and memorial books.


At first, I was not sure that I could write my own obituary – even after having written my mother’s obituary (she has not yet passed). But as I worked through the pages of ObitKit™, the process made sense and at no time was I ever “uncomfortable.” I think that the combination of prompts and Soper’s comforting and practical advice made the process actually enjoyable. As genealogists we love telling the stories of our ancestors, so why shouldn’t we also enjoy telling our own story?

The ObitKit™ is a practical way to not only take control over how your own story is written, but it can help and comfort someone who needs to write the obituary for a loved one or a friend. At the very least, it should be part of a family’s estate planning materials and the planning process. Thanks to Soper’s approach with this delicate subject, the task of writing an obituary becomes “normal” and the end product will be a memorial that can comfort friends and family in the future.

Visit the ObitKit™ website at to learn more and to order your copy today.

Disclosure:  Upon request, I received a complimentary copy of ObitKit™ from the author for review purposes. Please see Disclosure Statements ( for more information on my material connection with genealogy vendors and organizations.

©2011, copyright Thomas MacEntee