Reading SALT LANTERN: TRACES OF AN AMERICAN FAMILY is like listening to a favorite uncle talking about his long-ago childhood, where the uncle recounts personal memories and also elaborates on generations of family myth and legend. William Towner Morgan tells of growing up in Pipestone, Minnesota, during the 1930’s. He lived next door to his maternal grandparents’ Victorian home, where he first heard the stories that sparked later research and travel to uncover family roots in England and Scotland, as well as in Vermont, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and North Dakota. Although Morgan never knew his father, he also investigates the paternal side of his family—from Ireland to Illinois to Iowa to Minnesota—and learns to admire his father through the stories he uncovers.
Morgan draws from extensive oral and written narratives, which are well footnoted and indexed. What makes SALT LANTERN unusual is that, in addition to concentrating on people and events, Morgan also focuses on places and artifacts that figured prominently in the lives of his forebears. He travels to the major family homesites and interviews the current residents wherever possible. In the British Isles and Scotland, the buildings have remained relatively intact; in the United States, he finds the farms have mostly been razed. The book is beautifully illustrated with photographs.
Morgan narrates the story of his search (which will especially interest others undertaking the same sort of task) and offers readers the fruits of his genealogical travels. SALT LANTERN traces the European roots of an individual American family, but the relationships Morgan uncovers will speak to many readers as they continue to understand their own connections with persons, places, and things. SALT LANTERN seems to be an investigation into family history, but it is clearly Morgan’s search for deeper values within himself. From Morgan’s search, many may benefit.