Book Review: Fundraising the Dead

Prepared by Gena Philibert-Ortega.

My guess is that many genealogists love puzzles, after all genealogy is one large puzzle. So because of that I thought it was fitting to review a book that, while not a "genealogy" mystery story, genealogy places a prominent role. This review is a diversion from my usual reviews of non-fiction genealogy/history books, for those wanting to take a mini-research break.

"Fundraising the Dead" is written by genealogist Sheila Connolly. You can read more about Sheila and her genealogy at her website.

In this first installation of the "Museum Mystery" series, Pennsylvania Antiquarian Society Development Director and reluctant sleuth Eleanor Pratt (Nell) finds herself trying to figure out why documents are missing from the Society as well as who killed cataloger Alfred. The story opens to find Nell busy with an important fundraiser when things becomes more stressful as she learns that items from a collection donated by the family of board member, Marty Terwilliger, have gone missing, including a letter penned by George Washington. Marty, interested in her family history, discovers that the collection is incomplete during one of her many trips to study it at the Society. Nell also learns through talking to the Society's cataloguer, Alfred Findley, that certain documents have been reported missing to management staff but the missing items are chalked up to the longevity of the society and the poor catalog system. No one, except for perhaps Marty, believes that the missing items are due to a larger problem involving one thief. Later, after the fundraising event at the society, Alfred is found dead in the stacks. While initially it looks like an accident, Nell and board member Marty believe that it's murder.

With board member Marty and Marty's cousins, she does seem to be related to everyone in the county, including a potential donor, a young tech geek and a FBI agent, Nell goes about trying to figure out the identity of the thief and Alfred's killer.

This "cozy" mystery will be of interest to family historians even though genealogy plays a back seat to the background of the book, a look at how historical societies work. Having worked with non-profits, fundraising and writing grants, much of the detail of the Director of Development job sounds all too familiar. I had read a few reviews online that some readers didn't like the detail that went into describing the Society's collections and fundraising. I have to disagree, I felt the description of the Society helped make the book more interesting and added depth to the story. For genealogists, this look at societies, cataloging, fundraising and the work that goes on to keep a society staffed and open to the public is a good reminder to we family historians that providing access to documents is a big and costly job. The pains to bring an established society into the 21st century are also a theme that is a familiar one in today's world.

"Fundraising the Dead" is available as a paperback and also as an eBook for the Kindle and the Nook.

Fundraising the Dead, by Sheila Connolly. Berkley Publishing, 2010.

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