As many of you know, I’ve been working on a book for several years now. It has morphed from fiction to a memoir to I-don’t-know-what. A couple of months ago, after seeing an article in Writer’s Digest on “family history memoirs,” I requested through Interlibrary loan a few of the examples the article provided and started reading.
It was a breakthrough–now I have a name for what I’m working on!
The best example of what I want to do is “Missing Lucile: Memories of the Grandmother I Never Knew” by Elizabeth Berne. Berne’s grandmother Lucile died when her father was only six years old, so she sets out to find out what kind of person Lucile was, to reclaim her for her father. Another great example I am aspiring to is “Ava’s Man” by Rick Bragg. He re-creates the grandfather he never met through stories he’s heard from the family and historical research.
I have had bits and pieces of knowledge about my grandmother Ida, who died when my father was 12 years old. But I’ve recently found a wealth of information through many sources:
- I spoke with my great-aunt, Ida’s sister, about family stories and names I didn’t know. She gave me a ton of great stories–for example, I didn’t know my grandmother was a lefty!
- Ancestry.com has the 1940 Census free and indexed by name. You can find out the address where someone lived, their occupation, years of school, how many people lived in the household, where they were born, and whether they lived in the same place in 1935. I can actually go to the house my grandparents lived in 1940, because Google Maps (and Street View) show there’s a house still there, and it appears to be old enough. It’s in a town only about an hour away from where I live. Their relatives lived blocks away or around the corner.
- The Indiana State Library, which is located between where I work and where I park, and accessible two elevator rides away from my desk, has on microfilm just about every newspaper from every town in the state. I have heard that my grandparents met at a carnival (he was a carney and she ran off with him) so I wanted to look for ads or newspaper articles from 1933 to see if I could find any information about the carnival. I haven’t found mention of a carnival yet, but I did find her name on a graduation list, honor roll, a description of the senior play she was in (and the part she played), graduation activities, and an ad for her uncle’s shoe repair shop in the same town!
So my new goal is to take a couple-hour lunch once a week just to do research in the State Library. I’m so excited that I seem to be making progress on this work, and it’s in a direction that feels right.