My winter days here are in a lull as I wait for the exciting upcoming event on November 6th – the publication of my second book, Notes from the Bottom of the World: A Life in Chile. With time on my hands, I’ve begun research for an idea for a third book, a historical novel based loosely on the life of my great-aunt Anne. I’ve never attempted writing a novel before and have no idea if I’ll succeed, but the research has me addicted. Like a detective, I follow the clues on the family tree my mother created: names, birth dates and some places in Scotland.
Genealogy websites abound. Through Scotlands’People, I’ve found birth and death dates, cause of death and towns of origin. By piecing together the puzzle parts, I discovered the answer to why my grandmother and her two sisters emmigrated to the United States while in their twenties. Their mother died of pneumonia at the age of 37 when her youngest child, my great-Aunt Ida, was two years-old, and their father died 12 years later at the age of 54. Another sister, Helen, died as a child. I've been unable to find the cause of her death.
Locating information is a challenge, involving trying different spellings and dates. Even with the information I know to be exact, some searches are unsuccessful, like the date my great aunts arrived in the U.S. and the ship on which they travelled. I’ve tried passenger lists from arrivals in both New York and San Francisco between 1900 and 1910, the approximate date my mother wrote down, with no luck. I feel elated when a search reveals new information and terribly frustrated when the message “No results were found” appears on my computer screen.
I have my great-aunt’s photo albums, but sadly, few of the photos are labeled and they seem to be glued with cement. One photo I love shows the three sisters and their brother, Jack, who remains a family mystery. Hearsay has it that he emmigrated to Australia, but his sisters lost contact with him.
I learned that the name of their house in Kilsyth, Scotland was Hood-End (I’m guessing that houses had names rather than numbers), that their housekeeper was Agnes, and that my great grandfather was a mineral borer. Viewing census records and death certificates takes me there; family members come alive. Imagining their lives occupies a good part of my thoughts these days.
Maybe I’m on the road to that novel.