The memoir mine: family history

Every three or four years my sister and I take a family history trip together. We’ve visited the tiny Idaho town where our dad was born, and met a woman who knew his grandparents. In England we tramped through dozens of cemeteries, seeking family members of our maternal grandparents. We drove from Ohio to Iowa, following the path of an ancestor’s western migration from birth to death.

Among these stories, there are always questions that linger. Was our grandmother’s oldest brother born out of wedlock, or was there an early marriage–and how did it end? One ancestor’s husband died at forty-one on the Virginia frontier; how did his wife cope with that loss, and adapt to her new normal? Did our Quaker ancestors ever suffer arrest or imprisonment in late 17th century England, and what pressures prompted their move to the American colonies? And was our ancestral home in southern Italy really lost in a card game, as family stories suggest?

My most recommended memoir

Ten years ago I read Blood Washes Blood. From the opening pages, the whispered words of author Frank Viviano’s grandfather captivated me, describing a murder in Sicily two generations earlier. The murder of Frank’s great-great-great grandfather, a man known in family lore as The Monk.

This deathbed secret launched a search for his ancestor’s story which uncovered shocking truths about Viviano’s family, and an intimate look at the origins of the Mafia in Sicily.

I wrote a more thorough review at The Italian South a few years ago. Blood Washes Blood holds strong appeal for me for a couple of reasons. My own ancestry leads to southern Italy, a region I’ve come to love. And as I researched my family history, I regularly hit roadblocks, questions that can’t (yet) be answered. Reading Viviano’s story, I felt a vicarious satisfaction as his research bore fruit, some of it very unexpected.

Stories from my family history

I’ve written numerous personal essays and stories grounded in my own history. The first piece of writing I sold was an essay about my home town, Moose Pass, Alaska. Now, I am nearing completion of a memoir, The Drive in ’65, about a family road trip that changed my life. Publication goal is mid-summer 2020.

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