Review by Rebecca McNutt on Goodreads
I won this book in a goodreads giveaway, I apologize for the late review but it only recently arrived in the mail.
This book follows the amazing true journey of the search for Isabel, a woman who professionals couldn’t track down at all. Vividly detailed as it goes from place to place, this is an excellent novel for anyone who likes reading real-life adventures and I highly recommend it as a March break or summer read.
Review by David Lankester on Amazon.co.uk
A unique book that is not fiction but reads like a novel, not a memoir but is packed with social commentary, and driven, not by commercial influence but by curiosity that becomes obsession.
John Daffurn’s search for a woman he never met took him into the dusty archives of genealogical research to the dusty plains of Argentina as he searched for the woman’s (Isabel) family; three men with the same name who may or may not have been her father.
Written with the verve of a detective, the tenacity of an academic, and the creativity of a novelist, John Daffurn’s book recounts a journey that unfolds the fascinating history behind the founding of Argentina and the poor migrants from Scotland who went there to make – and lose – fortunes, up to the modern day as he traces not only Isabel’s past, but her future – the beneficiaries of her legacy.
It’s a fascinating read.
Brief review by Who Do You Think You Are ? magazine March 2015 edition
Fifteen years after her death, John Daffurn began a search for the heirs of Isabel Greig after a random search on a list of people who had died intestate. His research revealed three John Campbells who were living in Argentina – three possible fathers – and his story uncovers the genealogy of their three families, their struggles during two World Wars and the hunt for Isabel’s rightful heirs.
Book review: Seeking John Campbell by Sandra Danby, author of Ignoring Gravity
This is not fiction or a memoir. It is the true story of one man’s hunt for the family of a woman he doesn’t know, which encompasses genealogical research, foot slogging, dead ends and a lot of history.
This story starts with the death of this unknown woman, Isabel Grieg, in 1995. She dies intestate. The author found her name on the Bona Vacantia list of estates without heirs. His initial research, prompted by genealogical curiosity, turned into an obsession. This book is the story of that obsession, his fascination with the Campbells and a historical account which ranges from the founding of Argentina, the establishment of a Scots colony in Argentina, through the Great War and World War Two to the present day.
At times it is a very fact hungry book and I found myself re-reading some passages. This was not the book I expected, instead of an ‘Heir Hunter’ style detective story, albeit true, it is instead a well-written historical account of three men – each coincidentally called John Campbell – who may be the unknown father of Isabel Greig. In discovering the stories of these three men, the author tells the history of the twentieth century through the prism of three families.
The three potential fathers are John Argentine Campbell, John Burnet Campbell, and John Otto Campbell. Confused? I admit to getting a trifle bamboozled between the three at times but this did not distract me from what is a fascinating account of the Scottish/Argentina connection.
The story doesn’t end once Isabel’s father is identified. The search then switches to real time, as the author attempts to find the rightful heirs to Isabel’s legacy. It is at this point that the author switches from genealogist to heir hunter.
Review by Jess D’Zerts, Goodreads
As an avocational genealogist, I enjoy a good research story. Author John Daffurn stumbled into a fascinating project when he set out to find an heir to the unclaimed estate of the illegitimate Maria Isabel Pemberton Greig. Daffurn’s very readable stories of three men named John Campbell and the extensive research that enabled him to determine which one of them was Isabel’s father kept me engaged from start to finish. I learned much about aspects of world history that I was totally unaware of, and John’s research is a great example and inspiration for my own future research.
Review by T K Sand, blogger
I’m the kind of person who can spend whole days sitting at the computer doing research (more or less!) of a genealogical or family history nature. And although my interest began more than a quarter of a century ago, I’ve never run out of things to look up. I’m pretty sure I never will. But sometimes I just feel the need to step away from the computer and stretch out on the couch for awhile, so I’m always on the lookout for some good reading material with a genealogical theme. The recently-released Seeking John Campbell: Finding pioneers and patriots in the pampas by John Daffurn was a great choice in that vein.
John Daffurn began researching his family history many years ago and discovered, as many of us do, that the really interesting stuff is somewhere beyond the names and dates that fill the blanks on your ancestor chart. And when you get to that point, you may find the research process so enjoyable and so stimulating that it ceases to be all about you and your chart. You realize that you’ve learned some skills that are fun to use, and one day–reader, has this happened to you?–you begin to research someone who’s not even related to you.
Daffurn did this when he found Britain’s Bona Vacantia list, a list of deceased persons whose estates had gone unclaimed. Knowing he’d acquired some useful research skills, he decided to try his hand at heir-hunting. He rather randomly selected a name from the list–that of a woman who had died more than a decade before–and set out to discover her family connections and perhaps locate someone who was entitled to inherit her estate.
An illegitimate child, Maria Isabel Pemberton Greig was, Daffurn learned, the daughter of one John Campbell. One, if you think about it, among many! But eventually, Daffurn was able to narrow the field down to three John Campbells. From that point, he researched all three of them in great detail and, reader, from there springs Seeking John Campbell, a fascinating nonfiction page-turner.
I did not expect to learn so much about world history, I did not expect to bump into names I would recognize, and I did not expect to find a John Campbell injured in battle on the west coast of Italy in World War II, where he might have ended up in a hospital bed next to my dad. The world, I learned from this book, is much smaller than I had ever imagined.
I’m sure John Daffurn could not have foreseen the rich and colorful story that would come to him in this project. Maria Isabel Pemberton Greig was just a name on a list–a name with a date of death. There was so much more to be found! Seeking John Campbell is a spectacular example of what might lie beyond the names and dates, and Daffurn’s story is an inspiration for researchers.
I really enjoyed this book! Can you tell?
A pre-release review by Kassie Ritman, blogger of “Maybe someone should write that down…”
“Come sit here beside me” beckons an old friend, “I want to tell you a story.”
This is the most accurate description I can offer of the writing style of first time author John Daffurn in his incredible true story of finding what was lost. His book Seeking John Campbell is scheduled for release in paperback copy and via ebook version in early 2015.
Written in an intimate and conversational tone, the prose is easy, straightforward but also visually descriptive. He artfully walks the necessary line between scholarly report and the words a heart longs to hear. The author teaches us quietly while telling of his journey to flesh out so many forgotten and remarkable people.
What begins with author, John Daffurn, having a bit of curiosity and some spare time on his hands, quickly turns into a passionate, self-driven chase. The hours he spent patiently pursuing this obsessive mission to know about a woman’s life, whose name he plucks randomly from a list of unclaimed estates held by the UK government is amazing. The fact that he finds such a remarkable story going back many generations is incredible. Readers go along to find the surprising truth of a seemingly unremarkable woman’s life. Although Daffurn has no connection or relation to “Isabel” the story he tells reads like a love letter to all who have departed this world with little to no tether.
The real gem found here is for the reader. Seeking John Campbell should serve to bolt the casual researcher from the worn end of their favorite sofa and out into archives and perhaps yes, even across oceans to find such stories to tell of our own “ordinary” ancestors. The tenacity behind the author’s pursuit is inspiring, and some of his gentle tactics and clever ways around the “brickwalls” are enough to send most any family researcher scrambling to take note.
If picking up a copy of Seeking John Campbell does not show us all the folly of leaving our own family behind as only lists and piles of documents, I don’t know what will. Of key importance is the example set by John Daffurn. This book would not be anything beyond a few pages in a drawer without the story. As his example shows, the whole matter of John Campbell can be resolved by looking over the pedigree charts preceding the Prologue. But as he shows us, there is a benefit to going beyond the names and dates while researching.
As an American, I am rather (typically) blind to the ways and histories of the lands beyond my own. I rarely consider the idea that citizenry would ever leave their home country, especially a civilized place like England or Scotland, and make a home for themselves anywhere besides the United States. That’s where everyone went if they were unhappy…right? No. Daffurn explains the impetus for the Scots migration to Argentina–which was a new country just after the establishment of our own late 18th century Declaration of Independence.
As a nice aside, since this is written in the kindly and UK colored writer’s voice of a cousin from the Isles, we learn a bit more of the colloquial ways and settings. If you have Argentine or Scots for ancestors, and have not been raised in one of these countries, this is a must read! And for all other Americans whose roots sprouted out of any European soil, I
The Great Wars (WWI and WWII) gave us our heart wrenching share of broken and lost brothers, uncles and fathers. Easily forgotten is that these times treated the “other” side to the same loss and wreckage too. It’s a haunting reminder if you have been privy to consider this before, but a startling insight if you’ve only seen the great wars from our own American point of view.
I am impressed by the way the author interweaves the story he is chasing with the historical context of world events and the effects on the specific people involved. John Daffurn’s storytelling ability sets us at ease while he goes about mixing the mitigating details seamlessly with his own hunt for answers. The historical framing and intimate life events of those he writes of make for an enjoyable and dramatic true tale well told.
Here’s what Seeking John Campbell taught me. I am reminded by this book of just how self-concentric we all tend to be. The story seeks out a certain John Campbell, but turns out to be an amazing revelation of Isabel and the life and times of her 40 year marriage to a rather underground yet highly public figure. I wonder how many of her neighbors who waved at her while each was out doing yard work or collecting mail, knew the depths of the person she was? Perhaps most importantly: Why haven’t I sought out my John Campbell?
disclosure statement: Reviewer received no compensation in-kind or otherwise for reviewing this manuscript. All comments expressed are based solely on the reviewer’s own preference and personal opinion of the work presented for review.
Review by Anne Eckersley – Heir Hunters Association
“Seeking John Campbell is a fascinating history of emigration to Argentina. It traces three unrelated families’ genealogies in a bid to search out beneficiaries to Maria Isabel Pemberton Greig’s estate, one of the names that appeared on the Government’s Bona Vacantia List. Intrigued by the case which had been outstanding for fifteen years John Daffurn began to investigate.
As heir hunters we usually work backwards only as far as a living blood relative who is an entitled heir and there our interest stops, but in this book John Daffurn goes much further. Knowing Isabel was born in Argentina and her father was John Campbell he painstakingly narrowed Isabel’s potential male parent down to three men and researched their individual histories. These he skillfully wove together from the eighteenth century onwards, along with huge amounts of historical information to make their stories really come alive.
There were times I admit when I found that the similarity in names made the narrative a tad confusing and I was very grateful for the comprehensive index and genealogy charts provided. Obviously only one of the men could be the man John was looking for and even before starting I knew one of the three candidates had died ten years prior to Isabel’s birth, but even knowing that I was still gripped by his story. Then there was John Burnet Campbell, I would have liked to know what happened to him, but his death is recorded on his genealogical chart merely as a question mark.
It is a tribute to his determination that John Daffurn succeeded in making a successful claim to TSol after clearly many hours of research.
My only real complaint is that I wanted to know more about Isabel. She was clearly a fascinating character and I felt that there was much more to her story. But having said that the book was called Seeking John Campbell and that’s what John Daffurn did. Not only that, but he very convincingly found him as well.“