Monday, May 9, 2011

Motivation Monday: A Secret Gift (Book Review)

Over the weekend, I read A Secret Gift by Ted Gup, the story of the author's quest to learn more about his maternal grandfather. For any family genealogy nut (like me!), this is fascinating reading. It's wonderful motivation, as well, because of the satisfaction of following along as Gup puts the pieces of the puzzle together and reconstructs the past (very vividly).

What drew Gup into the quest was a dusty suitcase. By the end of his years of research, Gup had uncovered most of his father's secrets--and his father's secret kindness in his adopted hometown of Canton, Ohio.

It all started when Gup's mother, 80 years old, was clearing out her attic and gave him a suitcase of letters and other family memorabilia. Inside was a large envelope with the mysterious inscription: "Pertaning Xmas Gift Distribtion." (Yes, bad spelling and all.)

The letters were dated December 18, 1933, one week before Christmas, in the dark days of the Depression. Also with the letters was a sheaf of canceled checks, each for $5 and each signed by "B. Virdot." Gup puzzled over the envelope until he pulled out a folded piece of newspaper and read the story of a mysterious benefactor, B. Virdot, offering money to locals who were down on their luck. B. Virdot, it turned out, was Gup's grandfather, Sam Stone, acting anonymously to help families in his community.

Why would Sam hand out money to Canton residents? That's what Gup wanted to find out. He also wanted to know who got the money, why, and what it meant to them. So he not only applied his genealogical tracing skills to Sam and family, but to the people who had written the letters found in the suitcase. Once Gup tracked down descendants and read them the words of their parents or relatives, he got their side of the story and showed what the $5 gift meant to each family. (Gup reminds us that $5 then was like $100 today.)

Sam's story, as told by Gup, reveals his dreams and fears, his ups and downs. Highly recommended for the genealogy as well as the writing and the heart-wrenching, heart-warming picture of his family and the families he helped.


  1. I read about this story not too long ago but didn't realize there was a book about it. I put it on reserve at the library and will look forward to reading it.

    I just wrote a post about Bold Spirit, the story of Helga Estby's 3500 walk across America in 1896. It's an excellent read as an example of how to place an ancestor in his/her contemporary environment. If you haven't read it, you may enjoy it, too.
    Nancy from My Ancestors at Me at

  2. Nancy, thanks for the recommendation. I just read your blog entry and I'm going to look up Bold Spirit!

  3. I also wrote a blog post about A Secret Gift. I thought it was a great book. Not only for motivation to continue my genealogy research but to practice "paying it forward!" Now I'll have to check out Bold Spirit, too.

  4. Heather, I agree with your review of A Secret Gift ( I, too, wished for more detail about the family research process. Still, I enjoyed the book and would recommend it, as you do. Thanks for stopping by my blog!