For many, there is “a hunger, marrow-deep, to know our heritage – to know who we are and where we have come from.” (Alex Haley, author of Roots). For David Henry Gambrell, this was true. Armed with family lore, a previously published work from another ancestor and the copy of a painting that once hung in the drawing room of another relative’s home on the Hawaiian Islands, Gambrell sets out to discover more about his relatively unknown fourth great-grandmother, Ann (Grace) Lartigue. In his work, Gambrell invites the reader to sit down and hear the story of “our Grandmother Ann” who lived in “the late 1700s and early 1800s” (pg. 5).
Mr. Gambrell’s experiences as a lawyer stand him in good stead as he weaves the tale of his grandmother and the world in which she lived. Notable figures such as Sam Houston, President Andrew Jackson, Napoleon Bonaparte and Toussaint Louverture make their appearances throughout the novel as the author paints a broad picture of the turbulent times of revolution (for Americans, French and Haitians) and the struggle to adapt to a rapidly expanding world. Directly or indirectly, Gambrell demonstrates how each of these prominent figures played a part in shaping his ancestor’s life and driving her and her family to live in the growing cosmopolitan city of Augusta, Georgia.
Each chapter of the book (with the exception of the first, which describes the development of Augusta) focuses on an ancestor related to either Ann herself or her husband, Gerard Lartigue. Every chapter gives interesting accounts of the lives and circumstances of the individuals depicted and how they relate back to Ann. Unfortunately, the author does not cite his sources, claiming that he “is no scholar” and that the insertion of footnotes “interrupts the flow of the story” (pg 5). At the end of each chapter, Mr. Gambrell does include some endnotes which offer the reader the opportunity to investigate some of his assertions and verify the facts that he presented. The final chapter focuses, at last, on Ann herself, the events at the conclusion of her life
and what became of some of her progeny.
David Gambrell’s book is less a family history of he-begets-him and more of a social commentary on the development of the Southern United States in which members of his family just happen to play a part. Gambrell states that the story of his grandmother could be the story of anyone’s family (pg 5) and this would certainly seem to be the case if one had ancestors in the South. However, one would need to read the whole book to see if those ancestors had any connection to the Lartigue family enough to warrant a mention in this narrative.
Georgia Girl: A Grandmother’s Place in History. By David Henry Gambrell. Published by Gateway Press, Inc; Maryland; 2003. 386 pp. Maps, charts, photographs, index. Hardback. Out of print. Used $17.99 and up. A copy is available in the GA Heritage Room of the Augusta-Richmond County Public Library.