This post by Gayle M. Irwin
Last month I wrote about exploring my family tree and ordering a DNA kit from Ancestry. I received the kit and sent it off; I still await the results. Meantime, I continue my genealogy research, and I’ve made some interesting discoveries.
First, on my dad’s side: one of his distant relatives, 5th-great-grandfather, was brought to America as a slave when he was just three years old. He continued to be sold another five times before age 24. As close as I can ascertain, he and his mother were brought over from the West Indies and sold. He was again sold with his mother at age 6, and then at age 12, sold as individual, and again at age 15, age 17, and age 24. So, the issue of slavery hits home for me. For several years now I’ve donated to organizations that fight human trafficking. I’ve also written about the issue (see these links:
I hope to find more information on this ancestor, hopefully to discover his emancipation papers and more information about his later life, including marriage, owning a parcel of land, and having children, which would eventually lead to my grandfather, my father, and me.
On my mom’s side, I discovered her grandfather was arrested in 1892 for assaulting his 70-year-old father because “the harness which Mr. Christianson the younger had oiled was thrown into the dung pile by Old Man Christianson.” Each filed charges against the other; eventually, all charges were dismissed, concluded the newspaper account. I shared the story with my mother last weekend and we had a good laugh, not only at the antics of our ancestors, but at the writing style of the newspaper reporter.
Digging into my family’s past has been intriguing. I’ve hit a few roadblocks, but with the help of my neighbor, who is LDS and an avid family history buff, and the local LDS genealogy library, I think I’ll be able to overcome some of the hurdles and make more new discoveries about deceased family members.
In addition to slavery and African-American heritage, my father’s side has Native American lineage. I haven’t yet found much about that nor have I concluded whether the tribe is Choctaw or Cherokee … perhaps both. That is the quest I’m currently on – I plan to go back to the LDS family heritage library this weekend to review some of the books they have about American Indian heritage. Hopefully, I will make some new discoveries about that aspect of my ancestry.
In my post last month I noted that I hoped to learn where my love for writing came from – that, too, remains a mystery. Although my maternal grandmother and great-aunts were well-versed in some creative arts like embroidery and sewing, no one it seems longed to be the next great author. However, according to my mother, one of her cousins dabbled in painting and was fairly good at it. Perhaps the creative aspect comes from my heritage, and from my individuality comes the love of writing, just as her cousin’s outlet was the visual arts.
Discovering more of who I am as a part of the Christensen and Mansfield clans leads me to know more about my family, especially generations back. But, it also leads me to discover more about who I am as an individual … and I’m grateful for both.
Just as we can discover aspects of our family, past and present, we can also discover things about ourselves as writers – what is it we like to write, how we express ourselves (our writing style and genre), and how we engage our readers. And, we can discover things about the characters in our stories – maybe even develop them based on what we’ve learned about our ancestors. For instance, in my pet rescue romance, I could craft my hero as part French Creole and give him the looks of my great-grandfather, depicted in this post (does Samuel look like he could have been a firefighter who helps rescue dogs??). Discoveries can be intriguing, they can be fun, and they can be weird and worrisome!
What new discoveries have you made this New Year, about yourself, your family, your writing, or a combination thereof?
Gayle M. Irwin is an award-winning Wyoming writer. She is the author of several inspirational pet stories for children and adults, and she freelances for newspapers and magazines. Gayle has contributed stories to six different Chicken Soup for the Soul books, including the 2014 release The Dog Did What? and last year’s release The Spirit of America, in which she writes about America’s national parks. She supports various pet rescue organizations with contributions from her book sales. Learn more about Gayle and her writing and speaking endeavors at www.gaylemirwin.com.