Friday, February 09, 2007

Charity Girl

I've been doing genealogy this past week. It's one of my favorite passions. I feel like a detective, tracing clues one by one until I find another branch on the family tree. Of course, this is a quest that is never ending, and for every branch you find, another one or two or three spring up. Jesse's grandma's family came from Norway and through a couple of clues online, I found the small parish in Norway where his family came from. God bless Norway! They have lots of their church records scanned in online, so you can search through the actual pages and look for names. And the church his family attended in Holla, Norway back in the early 1800's has a website, so we even have pictures of the place.

While I love doing genealogy, part of it makes me sad. When I starting doing online research back in 1997, the online genealogy community was friendly and almost all of the information was free. There were lots of places to search for info. Slowly bought out most databases, and now if you want to do any kind of serious research online, you have to buy a subscription. I struggled to try to come up with new information, but I finally gave in and bought a subscription. It's amazing the stuff I've found: even a postcard with a picture of Lockstein mountain. I'm grateful (maybe that's not quite the right word since I am paying for it) for the sheer enormity of data on Ancestry, but I miss the days when every genealogist was trying to upload all the information they could for the free use by everyone else. Now you gotta pay to play.

Charity Girl by Michael Lowenthal covers a dark period in American history. In WWI 15,000 women were detained by the government because they suffered from sexually transmitted diseases and were determined to be a threat to American soldiers and therefore to national security. Freida Mintz falls head of heels in love with soldier Felix Morse, but their one night of love leaves her jobless, sick, and soon in a detention home. Freida befriends the other girls in the home and learns a great deal about herself and life. That's the short summary, but this book is so much more complex than that. Freida struggles with feelings of betrayal by Felix, anger toward her mother, and guilt at her own actions. Lowenthal does an amazing job of portraying all of the characters as truly human. No one is purely good or bad, and the inconsistent actions by Freida are all too real. Felix writes beautiful love letters to Freida, but never makes the attempt to rescue her, and ultimately his actions leave her alone. This book is extremely timely with its discussion of how far the government will go in curbing citizens rights to protect national security. The intentions were good, but the procedures destroyed people's lives. Lowenthal is alternately graphic and modest is his depictions of sex, but the point he makes about the importance of sexual education rings true. The book is never preachy; it's just a well-written story with some of the most human characters I've found.

I hope you like the new look on the blog, I'm still experimenting with it, but I love Blogger's new version. Let me know what you think!