The best books based on family history

Who am I?

As the fourth “oldest daughter” in my motherline, and my interest in genealogy and family history, my trajectory was set decades ago to become the keeper of the family letters, telegrams, photos, pilot logbooks, and stories. After researching what happened to the three brothers lost during WWII, I also have casualty, missions reports, and more. Before publishing the first book, I had bylines in newspapers and magazines, and I’ve blogged regularly for several years. Because of the wealth of historic photos and stories, I began history Facebook pages for three Iowa counties, as well as one for cousins to share memories and photos. If you enjoy family stories, you’ll enjoy the books on this list.


I wrote...

Leora's Early Years: Guthrie County Roots

By Joy Neal Kidney,

Book cover of Leora's Early Years: Guthrie County Roots

What is my book about?

Leora’s Early Years: Guthrie County Roots is the third in this irresistible series. In the wake of Leora’s bountiful passage of memorabilia, Joy Neal Kidney’s meticulous research and gifted writing bring universal understandings alive through the magic of memoir, reminiscence, and an intimate examination of everyday folks surviving in bygone times. Dive into these pages and experience adventures akin to Little House on the Prairie meets Our Town.” – John Busbee, The Culture Buzz

The books I picked & why

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Three Little Things

By Patti Stockdale,

Book cover of Three Little Things

Why this book?

Set during World War I and inspired by letters of the author’s grandparents, this delightful novel is filled with a fetching cast of characters and borne along by the author’s entertaining sense of humor. The narration reminds us that many folks were suspicious of people with German ancestry during the war, even though they were American citizens and even using the common term “gesundheit,” and that children of German immigrants were drafted to fight against their parents’ former countrymen.

Young Iowa men were trained into soldiering, where there were still rivalries—some about girls back home, some about German sympathies—and sent across to fight the Kaiser’s troops in France. Some didn’t return home, some came back with broken bodies. There is a compelling scene with wounded veterans in a local hospital, at least one scarred on the inside and fighting his own private battle.

This winsome story also carries themes of acceptance, forgiveness, strangers becoming friends, reframing troubles from the past, and reveals a nickname for someone named Shamrock. An engaging story on many levels.

Three Little Things

By Patti Stockdale,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Three Little Things as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ "I fell in love with Aron and Hattie!" - Debbie Macomber ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
"A well-drawn cast of supporting characters creates a strong sense of community, and colorful colloquialisms ("whip-thin and homely as a cow pie") add flavor. Lovers of G-rated historical romance will be charmed by the earnest, emotionally vulnernable connection between these young lovers." - Publisher's Weekly
One forbidden love. Two broken hearts. Three little things.
Hattie Waltz should forget the troubled neighbor leaving for boot camp in 1917. He forgot about her ages ago. It had always been the Waltzs…

Two Sisters' Secret

By Diane T. Holmes,

Book cover of Two Sisters' Secret

Why this book?

I'm drawn to family stories and saw the author interviewed on a local TV station, so I knew I'd enjoy reading her book. It's a story that needed sharing, about sisters who immigrated from Germany. The much younger one (Bernadine) was so ambivalent about leaving Germany, about being left behind in Iowa when the older sister (Elizabeth) married and moved away. Even after marrying and having so many children of her own, then was widowed, Bernadine struggled.

Bernadine's life became even more fascinating after she married a man who wasn't really as she'd thought. And there were unpleasant surprises with two adult daughters. By then, I'd forgotten about the original secret, so when it was revealed, it came as a surprise.

Two Sisters' Secret

By Diane T. Holmes,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Two Sisters' Secret as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From author, Diane Holmes, comes a story inspired by the life of her grandmother, Bernadine. In this work of historical fiction, the relationship between Bernadine and her older sister Elizabeth is complicated. Bitterness between them develops when Elizabeth asks Bernadine to keep a deep dark secret about her past. The author shows throughout the novel how the impact of keeping that secret is far greater for the one sister than it is for the other. The bitterness is intensified when the younger sister must leave her home in Germany and say goodbye to her best friend, Judith.

Two Sisters’ Secret…

Pioneer Girl: A True Story of Growing Up on the Prairie

By Andrea Warren,

Book cover of Pioneer Girl: A True Story of Growing Up on the Prairie

Why this book?

My Grandma Leora's family "went bust" in NE Nebraska during the 1890s drought. The McCance family stuck it out in central Nebraska during the same time. Grace McCance remembered so many dear details, like making horses from tumbleweeds, Indians learning German as a second language, the battle over wearing a bonnet, a pet rooster that liked to visit while feasting on grasshoppers. Grace was the second daughter in a family of seven girls and two boys. She hoped one day to make the most beautiful quilts and to marry a cowboy, which she did. They camped out the first night, then had their wedding portrait taken the next day.

Decades ago, I did a lot of quilting, so was familiar with the remarkable Flower Basket Petit Pointe quilt, which was designated as one of the top 100 quilts of the 20th Century by Quilters Newsletter Magazine in 1999. Grace McCance Snyder made that quilt in 1943!

Pioneer Girl: A True Story of Growing Up on the Prairie

By Andrea Warren,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Pioneer Girl as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Pioneer Girl is the true story of Grace McCance Snyder. In 1885, when Grace was three, she and her family became homesteaders on the windswept prairie of central Nebraska. They settled into a small sod house and hauled their water in barrels. Together they endured violent storms, drought, blizzards, and prairie fires. Despite the hardships and dangers, Grace loved her life on the prairie. Weaving Grace's story into the history of America's heartland, award-winning author Andrea Warren writes not just of one spirited girl but of all the children who homesteaded with their families in the late 1800s, sharing the…

An Old Settler's Story: Pioneer Life in Iowa: The Story of John Blake Jolliffe and his Wife Jane Etta Metcalf Jolliffe

By Larry Dean Reese,

Book cover of An Old Settler's Story: Pioneer Life in Iowa: The Story of John Blake Jolliffe and his Wife Jane Etta Metcalf Jolliffe

Why this book?

For their Golden Wedding Anniversary in 1917, a couple gathered their family for a celebration. During the day, they share their Iowa pioneering stories. What wonderful details about living arrangements, hardships in travel, hard-to-believe hordes of grasshoppers, blizzards, even a probable encounter with Jesse James. Written as a novel but based on historical events, his dear slim book also includes several photographs.

An Old Settler's Story: Pioneer Life in Iowa: The Story of John Blake Jolliffe and his Wife Jane Etta Metcalf Jolliffe

By Larry Dean Reese,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked An Old Settler's Story as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1917 the John Blake and Jane Etta Jolliffe family had gathered together at the couple's home in Rolfe, Iowa to celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary. During the course of the day's events, the couple shares their experiences as one of the first pioneering families in this part of Iowa. Although written as fiction, the stories are based upon historical information and stories written down as told by the couple themselves. This book provides valuable insight into the difficulties and struggles of early pioneer life in Iowa and the Midwest.

The Horse Whisperers from Anaconda

By Allen E. Rizzi,

Book cover of The Horse Whisperers from Anaconda

Why this book?

It has been interesting to read the reviews for this book. I ordered it when I learned it was about family history, but another wanted it because of horse whisperers in the title, yet another was drawn because of the artwork of one of the Allen brothers.

This is a corner of history that was new to me—a family moving from Missouri to the wilds of Montana to oversee a timber operation, but the sons learning training horses from Blackfoot Indians, which turned into jobs. They also trained horses for the army during WWI. They were hunters and mountainmen. Leather items they made still survive among descendants. Lee and Edd Allen's interests were so different.

Lee stayed with their parents when they moved to California, still cherishing the outdoors. Edd was an artist, illustrator, printmaker, and lived in Paris for a time. One etching is in the Smithsonian, and others have become popular to collect—until his birth name of James E. Allen.

A great tribute to the author's ancestors and relatives.

The Horse Whisperers from Anaconda

By Allen E. Rizzi,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Horse Whisperers from Anaconda as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Horse Whisperers from Anaconda chronicles the lives of horse whisperer brothers Lee and Edd Allen. Born in Pike County, Missouri and raised in Anaconda, Montana, the two became admired in their youth as they followed the teachings and traditions of their family and Blackfoot Indian friends to help build the American West. Richly illustrated with antique photographs, this novella explores the art of horse whispering as applied to everyday life and the grit that polished America into the gem it is today.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Iowa, Germany, and romantic love?

6,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Iowa, Germany, and romantic love.

Iowa Explore 24 books about Iowa
Germany Explore 322 books about Germany
Romantic Love Explore 466 books about romantic love

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Man from the Train, The WPA Guide to 1930s Iowa, and Methland if you like this list.