From 1640 to 1940, Sharilyn Rediess’ ancestors migrated west—by ship, wagon, flatboat, prairie schooner, and train—until a Willys sedan delivered her Okie grandparents to the Pacific Ocean. Things We Leave Unsaid takes us on a journey across time and geography as Rediess excavates census records, land patents, death certificates, and wills—the detritus of life that her ancestors left behind—and pieces together the surprising stories they tell.
Among her ancestors, she finds a failed counterfeiter and a Civil War draft evader, a Louisiana slave owner and Union Loyalist, a young woman staking a claim in Oklahoma Territory and another sailing to India on the eve of the Great War. She traces the roots of her grandfather’s evangelical faith and her grandmother’s sorrow and resilience. Rediess stitches together the identities these long-dead ancestors passed down—their ethnic character, their heroism and perseverance, and their failures and cruelties—and tries them on for size.
Things We Leave Unsaid shows us that it is our stories, more than our DNA, that say who we are.