A Family History Discussion

Last week a reader asked me a question on Facebook. She asked: “What discoveries in your own family history influenced or inspired the novel?”

I was happy to get her question, and happy to answer it here on the blog. Family history is a central theme of The House at Rose Creek. And indeed, discoveries in my own family history played a large part in inspiring the story of Ian Wylie, Kate’s ancestor and the writer of the journal that Kate reads throughout the novel.

For those that haven’t read the book (yet), a brief summary: Ian Wylie is the great grandfather four times over of the novel’s main character, Kate Sinclair. Generations before Kate was even born, Ian wrote a journal of his experiences that Kate later finds in the attic of the family’s old farmhouse. In the journal, Ian writes of journeying to America, from Scotland, in hopes of meeting his father. Unfortunately when he arrives, all is not as he expected. (Telling you more would ruin the story so, you know, perhaps you could buy a copy to see what happens next. Ahem. Yes. Yes that was a shameless plug.)

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This is James Armstrong Kinmont Wylie, my great, great, great grandfather.

Wylie is actually a family name in my own ancestry, on my mother’s side. In the mid 1800’s, James Armstrong Kinmont Wylie traveled to the United States from Scotland. Six years later, he booked passage for his wife Agnes, and their children. My great, great grandfather, Charles George Washington Walls Juniper Wylie (I know! Some name, huh?!) was the first of James and Agnes’ children to be born in the United States, which likely inspired them including “George Washington” as a part of his name.

When I thought about this story, I was moved by the great lengths that a father would go to in hopes of securing a better future for his family. James Wylie was separated from his family for six years. I’ll never know the particulars of his decision, but I feel comfortable in supposing that the separation was only endured because it had to be.

Though our ancestors lived long before us, in a different time, the human struggles of their existence were, in many ways, just like ours. They lived and loved and struggled and endured and hoped for their families just like we do. And that’s something worth remembering.

At first, the names on your family tree may only feel like faceless names and birth dates, but it IS possible to bring those names to life. Once you start digging and asking questions about who your ancestors were, though they may be slow at first, the connections will come. Towards the end of the novel, a volunteer at Rose Creek’s historical museum tells Kate that sometimes we get so busy looking forward, we forget to look back.

I believe there is value in looking back, in remembering who our ancestors were, and considering how they contributed to who we are today.

What are you Writing Down?

In The House at Rose Creek, the main character, Kate, finds an old journal in the attic of her old family farmhouse. The journal belonged to her Great Grandfather four times over and was full of his thoughts and feelings regarding his family and his faith. For Kate, reading the journal was a reminder that though time passes, the struggles and challenges that we face, even from one century to the next are frequently the same. Human struggles are the same. We all love. We fight and cry and overcome. We misunderstand and jump to conclusions; we feel sorry and try to improve.

I have an uncle who loves to do family history. My dream vacation involves traveling to his home in Missouri and barricading myself in his office until I’ve read every single document and looked at every picture he’s ever acquired. He sends me stuff on a regular basis, an event which when it occurs, makes getting the mail the highlight of my week. In the most recent stack of documents he sent,  he included copies of postcards that were sent from my great Uncles, home to their families while they served in the first World War.  The package also included a copy of the telegram that informed my great grandmother of her son Gordon’s death. I called one of my mother’s relatives to ask a few questions about my extended family last year. She told me a light went out when Gordie died, that no one in the family was ever really the same again.

One of my favorite family history documents is the newspaper write up about the wedding of my Great, great grandparents; full of flourish and elaborate descriptions, it was an incredible window into the personalities of the newlyweds, and the roll they played in a very close knit community. These are my people. Their story is a part of my story and I’m happy to know it.

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My nine year old son, Sam, reading my blog book, Mommy Snark 2007-2008. Compiling a book from the last three years of my blog is on my list of things to do. Sometime in the next . . . decade?

Over the past couple of years, I’ve made a project of writing as much of my own family history as I can. I’ve written my  personal history–significant events of my childhood, memories of my parents and grandparents. I’ve written about the heritage of faith that was passed down to my parents, that prepared them to join the LDS Church. I’ve written about how I met my husband, and quickly we fell in love.  And I’ve written about my children–the funny things they say and do, the things Josh and I hope to teach them, as well as the traditions and routines of our daily life. For many years, my record keeping took the form of a blog. I wrote almost daily about my kids and my feelings about being their Mom. I compiled the first two years of my blog into a book. It makes me happy to see how much the kids love to read it, but of course they would love it. They are the stars of every story.

I’m not blogging as much anymore, a fact that often makes me sad as I look back at all the wonderful stories I recorded when I did blog. But I haven’t stopped writing things down all together. It might sound silly, but I expect there are quite a few important thoughts and memories recorded on the wall of my Facebook page. It wouldn’t be very difficult to pull them all together and turn them into something printable and long lasting. I also have a journal that once in a blue moon I dust off and write something in . . . with miracle of miracles, an actual pen!

The point, I think, is to make sure we are writing something down. One day, we will be the ancestors and our descendants will be looking for ways to learn more about us, more about what our life was like. They will be strengthened through our experiences, through the lessons and trials of our lives, but only if we are willing to record them.