You may be wondering why I'm talking about genealogy here, but if you read any of my books, you'll see that family histories and connections play a part in all of them.
Our ancestors made us who we are today.
My great-grandmother on my mother's side decided in 1928 that she wanted to join the DAR. Her mother, born in 1846, was still alive, and they corresponded about what they knew, what they remembered, and I inherited those letters. When my mother decided she wanted to join the DAR as well seventy years later, she asked me to help with the application forms. At the time I knew almost nothing about the process or the people, but I learned–and I got hooked.
My father's parents came from Ireland in 1911. He drove a milk truck, she was a maid, in New York City. They met at the back door of the townhouse where she worked and where he was making a delivery. Research on Irish natives and the process of immigration is entirely different, but I found enough information about them and their ancestors to claim Irish citizenship for myself.
I've done research on both sides of the family, as far back as three hundred-plus years (and, surprise, it's not all the American side). I've become fond of a number of the ancestors I've uncovered–and they weren't all exactly respectable (no criminals, yet, but a few died broke). But most of them were ordinary people: farmers, carpenters, shoe-makers, soldiers. I'm happy to live among their ghosts in Massachusetts.
Genealogy is a wonderful theme to use in writing, because it is all about the connections–how we understand ourselves, our past; how we form unions with others, and create families and histories of our own. And working on genealogy is much like solving a mystery, assembling scattered and fragmentary clues until you have a picture of a person, a place, a time.
Feel free to ask me questions about how to learn more about your own family history. I joke that I'm related to half the people who ever passed through Massachusetts. So far the list includes Emily Dickinson, John Chapman (better known as Johnny Appleseed), and Ethan Allen. If you want to see an ongoing list of "famous" relatives, click here.
To learn more about my connection to Johnny Appleseed, click here.
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My great-grandmother, Mabel Barton Floyd
My Irish grandmother, Margaret Lawless (far left) with her sisters Winifred, Mary, and Catherine. They all emigrated to New York from Co. Carlow.
Don't you love the hats?