In 2018, I published my first novel Bella’s Legacy, a family saga across four generations in 20th century America. The novel is primarily a story of the women’s lives–opportunities taken and lost as they faced historical events and family circumstances. Following its publication, Christine Sleeter invited me to contribute an article to the special issue she was guest editing on Critical Family History, appearing in the open-access journal Genealogy.
My paper describes the process of researching family history. My journey included visits to museums, archives, libraries, courthouses, and the communities where family members had lived in three states–Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. Bella’s Legacy is fiction, but the characters are the product of the places where they had lived, worked, and experienced the historical events of their times. My father’s autobiography inspired me to begin the research, but I decided not to attempt to re-construct the lives of ancestors based on what I learned. Instead, I chose the option of telling the stories of those who came before us in a manner that did not violate their privacy or presume to know their truths. Fiction can be a mechanism to honor the lives of ancestors while, at the same time, unmasking uncomfortable realities and confronting the myths that endure across so many family histories.
After all, as Durie cautioned us, one can never really know the truth of the lived lives of others: one can only strive to diminish the deception (Durie, 2017).
My article is available for download and printing at no cost in Genealogy 2020, 4, 44, and the doi is 10.3390/genealogy4020044
The Durie reference: Bruce Durie (2017). What is genealogy? Philosophy, education, motivations and future prospects. Genealogy 1:6.