Sunday, April 29, 2012

Listening and Recording History

What used to be called genealogical research is now simply called family history, and broader communication tools make it so much easier to share information.  There were histories written about my father's mother's family and his father's family.  When my great aunt, Lettie Reed Cochran Grove, did detailed histories of her her mother's ancestors, she wrote hundreds of letters and visited local historical societies.  On my father's "other" side, the Orr Reunion Association did a history at almost the same time Aunt Lettie did -- the mid 1950s.  Those written histories are the starting point for those of us who may have done the library or on-site research initially, and now supplement it with the magical world of online records.

But what if you don't have someone else's carefully researched family history of 60 or 70 years ago?  The adage in family history work is "start with what you know."  Then you go looking for distant relatives, and hope there are some very old ones who are willing to talk to you.  Aside from the fact that this can be fun, you need a context for information you find online.  Almost every name in a census has a duplicate, and a lot of them live in the same state.  In my extended family there have been enough William Orrs to start a baseball team in the great beyond.

In the case of my mom's father's family, which had almost nothing written, my cousin Peg Pierson started the work and lucked out.  Not luck, really.  She searched hard for Rooney/Roney families in Kansas, Missouri, and Indiana.  She came up with two long-lived women, and in fact just attended the 100th birthday party of one of them (Alexis McCormick), and together we visited another, Eugenia Chandonia, who is 92.  I can say her age because she will brag about it to anyone. 

But it wasn't just the good fortune in finding these two women.  These are women who listened to the stories of those around them and were willing to share.  In Eugenia's case, her mother (Inez Roney Groff) had collected photos and names, and Eugenia continued the tradition.

Peg Pierson, Eugenia Chandonia, and Elaine Orr - Rooney/Roney cousins.
Peg and I are the daughters of two women who were cousins (so second cousins).  Eugenia's great grandfather is our great, great grandfather, so our relationship is more distant (second cousins once removed).  But you'd never know it to hear the three of us talk -- similar senses of humor and the same value of preserving family history.  Eugenia's mom (Inez) even kept copies of some photos of our great grandfather and some of his children, people Inez likely never met and who were dead long before Peg and I were born.  Because of Inez and Eugenia, Peg and I were able to scan these photos and load them on to share with other distant cousins. 

I hope you can find the Lexis and Eugenias of your family and spend time with them.  Don't wait.  You don't have to be as nutty as cousin Peg and I, who record and publish the histories (though future generations would be happy if you did).  Just ask and listen, and then share the stories with your children and cousins. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

New Jersey Beach Towns

I am often asked why I chose the fictional town of Ocean Alley, New Jersey, to use as a setting for the Jolie Gentil cozy mystery series.  It's not complicated.  I like beaches, and have spent a lot of time on Maryland and Delaware beaches.  At one time I co-owned a cottage on the Chesapeake Bay.  However, the beach towns I frequented as a teenager are much larger today and nearly all the blocks near the ocean are 90% commercial property. Basically, there was room for the Maryland and some Delaware beaches to grow, and they added a lot of condos through the years.  New Jersey beach towns generally had less room to expand. (We won't talk about Atlantic City.)

In creating a town I wanted one that had some boardwalk area and a small-town feel.  I visited a couple of New Jersey towns through the years and if there is a model for Ocean Alley it is Ocean Grove, which is next to Asbury Park. Ocean Grove is much less commercial than Ocean Alley, but it does have rows of residences and small shops.  What it does not have is a rowdy atmosphere or big arcades.  In large part this is because Ocean Grove was founded by a group of Methodist clergy in 1869 and used as a summer camp area for years.  The Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association still owns the land and leases it to businesses and homeowners.  Methodist clergy are not too rowdy, so the town remains a quiet haven on the Jersey shore.

Ocean Alley is more of a bustling town, and it is the county seat for the smallest (mythical) county in New Jersey, so there is a fair bit of non-tourist activity.  There are summer cottages, but many residents live there year-round.  That's important, because Jolie needs to run into a lot of people on a regular basis, and in a largely tourist community there might not be long-term family roots and Aunt Madge would not know half the town. 

The small-town feel is not a product of the east coast -- not that there are not a lot of nice small towns.  When I grew up Garrett Park, Maryland had a small general store attached to its post office with a beauty shop near both, and below were a barber shop and TV sales and repair stop.  The post office is there, but not the store, and Garrett Park of today is more of a bedroom suburb.  The small-town feel in the Jolie Gentil books comes from living in Iowa for fifteen years. 

Combine Iowa and a Methodist Camp and you have Ocean Alley.  Lest that lead you to think it's a totally straight-laced place, be assured it has a couple bars to go with the grocery store and many other small businesses, and you can get in as much trouble in Ocean Alley as you can in New York City.  You just have to know where to look.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Natural Humor in Writing

I'm not sure if it's "normal" to laugh when you write, but I've been having fun working on the fourth book of the Jolie Gentil series.  Jolie remains the focus of the story, and she often has a quirky take on things.  In this book (still called "Any Port in a Storm") a lot of characters are planning for Talk Like a Pirate Day festivities and they are having a blast doing it.  Scoobie is writing limericks in honor of the occasion, and George (Jolie's least favorite newspaper reporter) has employed his talents to design a poster for the event.  You can guess who it features.

Books can be serious, and Jolie and her friends do tackle some real-life problems.  But their humor comes through even then.  My fiction is not autobiographical in any sense, but the characters in this series tend to be amused by the things my friend and I are.  At least I am -- not all of my friends will admit to some of the odd twists my humor takes.

I just came across a neat article on laughter and humor.  You can see from the link title that this is not an article about jokes.  It is a thoughtful piece on the role humor plays in our life, and how it makes our lives better.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Any Port in a Storm -- Taking Shape

I have been working on the fourth Jolie Gentil novel, working to make it humorous and "mysterious" but also to keep the situation realistic.  It isn't just any day that a real estate appraiser trips over a dead body, so I am looking for a happy medium between Jolie having a real life and having part of that life be solving the mystery before her. 

Much of Any Port in a Storm revolves around a fundraiser for the food pantry -- Talk Like a Pirate Day.  This true "holiday" takes place each September 19th, and can be celebrated however its celebrants wish.  Naturally, I favor at least some wacky antics.

Be truthful now, would you keep reading if this were the book opening?

Opening of Any Port in a Storm
Fourth book in the Jolie Gentil Cozy Mystery Series
By Elaine Orr

IF SCOOBIE HAD not been hurt last spring I don't think any of us would have gone for a "Talk Like a Pirate Day" fundraiser for the "Harvest for All Food Pantry."  I was past being amused by Ocean Alley residents who felt compelled to yell "Shiver me timbers" across the grocery store or pretend to thrust a sword at me as I jogged past the Java Jolt coffee shop on the boardwalk.

But for my inveterate friend Scoobie or Lance Wilson, who at ninety plus years old would not be expected to wear a fake eye patch to food pantry committee meetings, such antics are the height of humor.  Lance continues to defy any expectation to maintain decorum, and now that I know that Sylvia, our most stodgy committee member, bought the patch for him, I am resigned to dealing with a lot of slapstick comedy over the next two weeks.

It's not that I'm humorless.  It's just been a crazy year, and I'm up to my eyeballs in appraising real estate, doing more chores at Aunt Madge's Cozy Corner Bed and Breakfast, and chairing the Harvest for All Food Pantry Committee at First Prez.  On top of that, Scoobie just went back to college to get his associate's degree as an x-ray technician.  That's great, but it cuts down on his time to help with planning "Talk Like a Pirate Day."  Though 'help' would be a stretch, since he spends most of his free time writing pirate limericks.
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