The following review appeared 1 September 2001 on the Mark Twain Forum.
Copyright © 2001 Mark Twain Forum
This review may not be published or redistributed in any medium without permission.
Mary Leah Christmas
To the general public, Mark Twain and 8100 Goggin Kin is a handsomely produced reference book. To scholarly types, it is a charming volume containing much helpful historical, genealogical and biographical material. To seekers of the profound, however, Mark Twain and 8100 Goggin Kin is a four-dimensional phone book. Those of a sensitive, imaginative nature will readily perceive this book possesses that elusive quality of time transcendence.
Many people interested in genealogy routinely check motel phone books for their own surnames. In this inter-dimensional family directory, like any ordinary phone book, the surnames vary; but all are unified by blood or banns. Each person is assigned a number according to his or her generational rank (prefix) and individual indentifier (suffix). Want to talk to Sarah Jane Goggin Shy, who confronted Union pickets outside of Ironton, Missouri? Dial 5-53. Care to reach William Leftwich Goggin, who served as a U.S. Congressman and was a Whig candidate for Virginia governor in 1859? Dial 5-106. To confer with Samuel Langhorne Clemens himself, dial 6-295.
The phone book allusion may be more apt than it seems. The standard American phone book gives few hints about those listed in its residential pages. However, in Iceland, because of patronymic naming practices, individuals are listed alphabetically by their given names. If more than one person has the same given name and patronymic, as often happens, those entries also list occupations. This is the merest scintilla of biography, but satisfying to those who care about such things.
Mark Twain and 8100 Goggin Kin does not have biographical information for every entry, but there is enough of it to make for fascinating reading. One learns of the family sagas--the ups and downs, the triumphs and heartbreaks. Of Baptists and Presbyterians and Nazarenes, of Revolutionary and Civil War veterans (several of whom died in service), cowboys, physicians, postmasters, and a gymnast. Of orange slices, marshmallow peanuts, and an inside-out sofa. Of cholera and measles, of at least two family members injured or killed in falls from horses, of more than one death by tree branch, and even a death by "house raising." The latter was Mark Twain's grandfather, Samuel Clemens, husband of Pamela Goggin Clemens (4-28).
Mr. Bell's book also contains some noteworthy vintage photographs. One is moved by the caption of the first photo in the book. The posed portrait shows a serious-faced group of Bell family members from the sixth and seventh generations. The text underneath reads, "...I dedicate this book to these seven people who toiled from early morning to late at night.... They endured many untold hardships...searching for a better life for themselves and for those 'Goggin Kin' who would come later." Another photo of an enviable scene shows a crowd standing around Goggin's Landing on the Cumberland River in Kentucky. One wishes to project oneself into the picture, perhaps to sit on a barrel and watch for Mark Twain's ancestors as they pass by.
Flipping to the back of the book, on a map one can follow the routes of the Ark and the Dove which carried the pioneer Nevilles, who married into the Goggin family, from London to America in 1634. The voyage took them, in one prescient sweep, past the Canary Islands and Bermuda and landed them on the Chesapeake and Potomac shores, the future geographical doorsteps of Mary Ann Cord and John T. Lewis.
Returning to the front of the book, the chart of the Clemens family tree is very detailed, but the lettering did not reproduce as well as one would like. There are also some pesky typos here, as elsewhere in the book, but one must look at the big picture: Better a flawed jewel than no jewel at all. The flaws, however, are part of this book's flavor. Anyone involved in genealogy knows that a family research project of this scope is never truly "finished," so typos are simply a part of the changing scenery.
One shortcoming of the book, though, is the discovery that the surname index is not comprehensive. Such surnames as Branch, Huffman, Kissinger, and Reitz appear in the text but not in the index. What this representative sampling has in common is that all are the family or maiden names of the spouses of Goggin descendants (who do not have genealogical "phone numbers"). These omissions may have been made for space reasons. Mr. Bell's book is the culmination of half a life's worth of research, and he states that not all information was included in order to keep the book at or under 500 pages. But one winces a little at the unintended implication that the spouses were not contributors to the Goggin line. For the sake of lineal purity, perhaps these surnames could have been compiled into a separate list; but enumerating twelve generations of spouses would likely have pushed the book beyond the desired page count.
Bell has written six books during his life, but he said in an interview with the Hannibal Courier-Post that this will be his last. "I'm going to continue to straighten up my own genealogy for my grandchildren," he said to the newspaper interviewer, "but this is definitely my last book. It's a lot different doing something like this when you're 69 than it is when you're 74."
It should be noted that Mr. Bell's impetus to publish his Goggin research in book form was provided by--ready for this?--a phone call! The caller, from the Mark Twain Birthplace Shrine, inquired whether there was a connection between Mark Twain's Goggin ancestors and Goggin Mountain in Reynolds County, Missouri. Bell knew from his research that "Mark Twain's grandmother, Pamela Goggin Clemens, was born in Bedford County, Virginia, as were the Goggins who settled near the base of Goggin Mountain in 1829." (He has yet to find the common ancestor.)
State funding for publication of this book was not available, so Mr. Bell subsidized the project himself. Sales have not been as brisk as he would hope, and that is a shame. This book is what is commonly called a "steal." In fact, its title, alone, is well worth the purchase price.
Like The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, in which a boy wore a hat
concealing numerous other hats, in a nesting fashion, James E. Bell has given
us Sam Clemens and his 8100 Goggin kin. Do they ornament him, or does he ornament
them? Let us call "Hello Central" and ask.
Surnames appearing in Mark Twain and 8100
ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Mary Leah Christmas is an award-winning freelance writer/editor with a background in book publishing. She still owns her childhood copy of The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins. This is her seventh review for the Mark Twain Forum.