Cane River by Lalita Tademy is the saga of a family born into slavery on the banks of the Cane River in Louisiana. I found it particularly interesting because a few years ago I visited Melrose Plantation in Natchitoches (pronounced Nak-a-tish) and could imagine the lives of Elisabeth and her descendants who lived in the same area.
But this isn't just any family saga, Lalita Tademy has uncovered her own family history and painstakingly researched historical records and family documents to put together this wonderful story that covers slavery, the civil war and eventually freedom. (The book has many pictures and copies of documents). Each of the women depicted were strong willed and determined to keep their family together. Although many children were lost to disease that was prevalent at the time, only one child was sold and later in life reunited with the family. Most of the family was kept together despite tremendous obstacles and eventually became free. It's difficult for me to understand that these women had no choices and were used at the whim of their owners and sometimes their owner's friends, who slept with whomever they chose, producing multiple children. But each of the mothers fought for their children's future, and managed to secure a home and land for the family.
One little tidbit I learned was that when slaves were freed they could choose their own last name which I'm sure must make genealogy study difficult.
You can read an excerpt here.
This would make a great book club read.