Toby Fesler Heathcotte
Mardel Books (2017)
Reviewed by Carol Hoyer for Reader Views (11/17)
“Backlight: A Fesler Family Chronicle” by Toby Fesler Heathcotte is a beautifully written account of the authors endeavor to trace her family’s genealogy, in an effort to better understand how one’s heritage helped determine who they are today.
The story begins in Switzerland in 1684 with the Albrecht Vessler family. During that time King Louie wanted all people to be re-Catholicized under his control, regardless of the Treaty of Nantes which guarantees the right to worship as one pleases. To re-catholicize meant everyone must recant their faith and pledge allegiance to the Pope. If they didn’t, they would lose their homes and livelihood.
Times were different then, some good and some not so much, such as having to fear for the lives of one’s families, income, food, and housing. It wasn’t unusual for families to change the spelling of their last name to avoid detection. Even though many of the individuals couldn’t read or write it did not stop them from getting what was needed to survive. During this time girls were not encouraged to go to school and learn to read, their job was to learn useful skills to become a wife and mother. Each generation of the Fesler family did the best they could under the circumstances, holding whatever jobs they could. What remained constant throughout was their belief in God and keeping the integrity of the family.
I found the family chronology very interesting in that many of the men had the same first name and often went by names such as Johnny One and Johnny Two. Also, interesting, before the twentieth century there was no data gathered on the different names and spellings to connect families.
Heathcotte did extensive background research, ancestral searches and interviews with living family members to gain the information on her family history. I thought this read would be one that would only benefit the Fesler family; however, I was quite intrigued by how ingenious the families were in the quest to survive, and how life was from 1684 to 1969. The author provided vivid descriptions of events, and I felt like I transported through history with the incredible narrative.
I thoroughly enjoyed “Backlight: A Fesler Family Chronicle” by Toby Fesler Heathcotte. It was informative, meaningful, and beautifully written.