Our guest today is Cindy Thomson, a writer and an avid genealogy enthusiast. Her love of history and her Scots-Irish heritage have inspired much of her writing, including her new Ellis Island series. Cindy is also the author of Brigid of Ireland and Celtic Wisdom: Treasures from Ireland.
Connecting to Your Past
Novelists like to ask who, what, where, and why questions. When I began my search for my ancestors I was just a teenager and I would not become a professional writer for a few more decades, but the beginnings of those novelist questions were forming. Where did I come from and who are my people? Doing genealogy research planted the seeds that fed my imagination. Genealogists are usually after the who, what, and where—names, dates, places of origin, birth, marriage, deaths. But for me the why became an obsession. I knew my ancestors emigrated from Belfast, Ireland, to America in 1771, but I wanted to know why, and not just why they left Ireland. Some answers can be found in a study of social history: crop failures, high rents, and religious persecution. But once the family is in America, then what? They moved around for various reasons, but what exactly motivated these people to do the things they did, to earn their livings the way they did? Did they keep their faith in God through all the trials they must have faced? How did their choices ultimately influence the person I am today?
You cannot know all of these things unless you are fortunate enough to have a hand-written diary from your ancestor revealing all the personal motivations driving him or her. With fiction, however, you can make them up! And that’s what I did. My first novel about my ancestors is still unpublished, but I moved on to asking these questions of fictional characters that represent many people’s grandparents and great grandparents.
It’s been estimated that approximately half of the American population can trace at least one ancestor through Ellis Island. The massive immigration station served 22 million people from 1892 until 1924 when immigration laws severely restricted the numbers entering the country. Writing about immigrants from this time period has the potential to resonate with many readers so that is why I chose it. (Learn more about Ellis Island at www.ellisisland.org)
Truly Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty are iconic symbols of what it means to be an American for many of us. Hearing or reading a story is the best way I know to appreciate the world these people lived in. The turn of the twentieth century in New York City was a time of contrasts between the very poor and the very rich, between the swindlers and the charities, between hard labor and labor-saving inventions. I chose to use what was popular at that time (for example the Brownie camera and the new book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz) to illustrate the creative flow of ideas fighting against a desire to restrict progress and personal freedom.
I believe everyone should research his or her ancestral roots, or at least the stories of those who helped build today’s society. With so much online, it’s easier today than ever before, and what you will gain—appreciation, understanding, clues to the traits that may have been passed down to you—will enrich your life whether or not you choose to write a novel about it.
Cindy’s newest book, Annie’s Stories, just released and she would like to giveaway a signed copy to someone who leaves a comment on this blog in the next seven days.
About Annie’s Stories:
The year is 1901, the literary sensation The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is taking New York City by storm, and everyone wonders where the next great book will come from. But to Annie Gallagher, stories are more than entertainment—they’re a sweet reminder of her storyteller father. After his death, Annie fled Ireland for the land of dreams, finding work at Hawkins House.
But when a fellow boarder with something to hide is accused of misconduct and authorities threaten to shut down the boardinghouse, Annie fears she may lose her new friends, her housekeeping job . . . and her means of funding her dream: a memorial library to honor her father. Furthermore, the friendly postman shows a little too much interest in Annie—and in her father’s unpublished stories. In fact, he suspects these tales may hold a grand secret.
Though the postman’s intentions seem pure, Annie wants to share her father’s stories on her own terms. Determined to prove herself, Annie must forge her own path to aid her friend and create the future she’s always envisioned . . . where dreams really do come true.
Leave a comment for a chance to win a free copy of the book.
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