About Me

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Lake Mathews (Perris), CA, United States
Born in Illinois, I grew up in Wilmette, a northern suburb of Chicago. I have one sibling, an older brother. I am married, for the 2nd time now, to Butch & got 4 children in the deal. They have gone on to make me grandmother 25 times over & great-grandmother to over 20!. After many years working in industry, I got my bachelors and masters degrees in speech communication, & was a professor in that field for 13 years. I retired in 2001 & returned to school & got my doctorate in folklore. Now I meld my two interests - folklore & genealogy - & add my teaching background, resulting in my current profession: speaker/author/entertainer of genealogically-related topics. I play many folk instruments, but my preference is guitar, which I have been playing since 1963. I write the "Aunty Jeff" column for the Informer, newsletter of the Jefferson County NY Gen. Soc. I work in partnership with Gena Philibert-Ortega & Sara Cochran as Genealogy Journeys® where we focus on educating folks about Social History. More about that: genaandjean.blogspot.com. More on our podcasts: genjourneys.podbean.com. More about my own projects: Circlemending.org.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

I finished the novel. Of course, if you didn't know I was working on a novel, that might come as a complete surprise. I haven't really been mentioning it much because the words "I'm working on a novel" sound rather pompous to me (mostly because I have known folks who have been working on their novels for decades). But now that it's done, I guess it is time to say: "I wrote a novel." (That still sounds pompous.) The folks who have helped by reading it as critics (and much-needed editors) have told me that it is really good, so now I feel OK posting the news.

The story is about my great-great-grandmother who escaped a terrible marriage and her native Germany "under the cover of darkness." Helped by a confidante and family friend, she left her children in the care of her sister and abandoned her husband for the safety of America. I realize that, had she not done this, her abusive husband (my great-great-grandfather) probably would have killed her and I would not be here . . . at least, not in America! Nevertheless, her experience was hard on her, physically and emotionally.

When I first started working on my genealogy (about 1979), my father gave me a box of photos and letters and poetry, etc. (much written by my grandmother, Pauline Elizabeth Miller Wilcox, the granddaughter of Elisabeth in my story). One of the pieces of writing was a six-page manuscript called "Rescued from a Living Death" written about 1935 for publication (which may or may not have occurred). Initially, I thought it was just a short story my grandmother had composed, but, about 20 years later, I discovered that my g-g-grandmother had come to America (I had been led to believe she never left her native Bonn, Germany). By close scrutiny, I learned that the story was actually the history of my ancestor, put down by my grandmother so it would not be forgotten. Hopefully, my novel will ensure that her story, maybe similar to thousands of others, will be forever remembered.

The novel is historical fiction - that is, fiction by the fact that I "put words in the mouths" of my ancestors, created needed relationships with lesser characters, and imagined certain living situations. Historical by the fact that I have researched the various events that likely affected the lives of the people in the areas of New York state and City, Jersey City, and Chicago. The immigration took place during the industrial revolution (she arrived in the U.S. at the end of the Civil War in 1864 and lived until 1895, dying in Chicago in the home of her daughter). This means that she saw the advent of the indoor bathroom, creation of such innovations as "time" payments, and the invention of the telephone, among other things. She also witnessed the rise of women's rights (though she died before women got the vote), the end of slavery, the celebration of the end of the Civil War, the Columbian Exposition, and other events in history that surely touched her life (at least they did in my vision of her life).

But her experiences were also based on clear facts, verified with census records, city directories, military and pension records, legal documents, and family records, among other things. Elisabeth: The Story of a German Immigrant is told in first person from the perspective of someone who learned a new language and a new culture at the same time.

An excerpt from the book can be found on my website where there is also a link for ordering it in eBook format from Lulu.com (click on photo at right for a direct path to my page at Lulu).

For those who have heard my presentation on this person (by the same title as the book), this is the extension of her story. At right is a photo of this presentation done in Orange County in 2008 (photo by Gary Friedman).

My grandmother ended her manuscript with the statement: "I hope my little story will be the means of helping some bewildered soul." Considering that it led me to hundreds of documents - birth, marriage, death, census, military, etc. - and, until that time, I was one very bewildered genealogist, I would venture to say that the little story fulfilled that desire. To that I add that I hope my little novel will be the means of inspiring those who read it.