Saturday, August 26, 2023

When History and Family History Merge

By Elaine L. Orr

Today, August 26, 2023, is the 103rd anniversary of ratifying the 19th amendment, which granted women in the United States the right to vote. It's hard to fathom that half the population wasn't allowed that basic right, but when the nation was founded only property owners could vote. This translated to white men, because women didn't own property and most Black Americans were slaves. 

For most people, these are facts we understand, regret, and move forward, working to ensure all eligible citizens can vote. 

My mother's mother was the daugher of Irish immigrants, Cornelius and Anna Teehan. He was treasurer of the local school district, and people made fun of him because he wanted his daughters to have as much education as his sons. On the plains of Kansas in the 1870s and 1880s, high school would have been the top option, and I assume she went to Westmorland High School.

One of the first things I remember my mother (born in 1922) telling me was something her mother (Nellie Teehan Rooney, 1881-1956) relayed to her early on. That was that mom's life would be very different than her mother's because all of her life mom would know she could vote. Not that she could cast ballots, but that she would KNOW that she could. She was equal. 

Recently, I found a 1914 article in the Seneca, Kansas paper about local elections. It notes that my grandfather, Thomas E. Rooney (1878-1931), was a candidate for councilman. Only the 2nd precinct (his) had two contesttants. The article notes, "While it is likely to be spirited, all signs point toward a good-natured measurement of strength." 

In a town of largely Republican voters, he was a Democrat and I don't think he won, as I never heard him referred to as a local official.

The final paragraph is what interested me most. "The Second was the only one in which the ladies turned out to attend the nominating convention. Quite a number were present and took considerable interest in witnessing how things are done."

These ladies would be my grandmother and her friends! She was active in different civic causes. Seneca had no public library, so she and her friends raised money to found one. My mother and her younger sister were pictured taking out the first books. (They were very cute.)

Here's where research gets even more fun. An article about the Seneca Free Library relays the following:

The Library was an idea generated by the Seneca Women's Club embroidery circle in 1908. As they worked, they often discussed books and the need for a town library. After collecting 300 books they persuaded a drug store to give them shelving space. Town administrators noticed their efforts and offered better space in City Hall. In 1915, the collection grew and was moved to Seneca High School. The Old Stone Universalist Church -- a fine structure built in 1869 of Kansas soft gray stone with stained glass windows and bell tower -- was acquired in 1928 and it became the collection's permanent home. As the library continued to grow, a new wing was added in 1997, a handsome complement to the original church. The project is an example of Seneca's growing interest in the reuse of historic architecture. 

My mother and her sister would have been the first borrowers at the 1928 library, and my grandmother was a member of that Women's Club! Not likely the embroidery circle, as she didn't like needle work and she had several young sons at that time. 

The pictures at right depict my grandmother, Nellie, her mother Anna, and my mom, Rita Rooney Orr. Of the three, two voted during their lifetimes. 

I never met either of my mother's parents, so I treasure finding nuggets that go beyond the few verbal stories I heard. And I love that reading and voting were an important part of their lives.

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To learn more about Elaine L. Orr, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter 

Saturday, August 19, 2023

Do You Want to Write a Blog?

By Elaine L. Orr

Blogs (short for web log) have been an important way for people to get their ideas to a large audience. Blogger (Google's blog platform, which hosts my site) began in 1999, a few short years after the concept took form. 

If you're wondering why blogs didn't begin until the 1990s, you clearly have always lived in the Internet age. Early users, as I was, first reached the Internet through subscription services such as Prodigy and AOL. They generated content, presented news, and hosted bulletin board topics. You could communicate with other people in almost real time! I used family history and travel bulletin boards. But you only interacted with other subscribers to those platforms.

When direct access to the Internet became easy, blogs became a way to present information and opinions and attract regular readers without being a news columnist or well-known expert. People subscribed to your blog and soon Google's search engine (and now others as well) would lead readers to it. 

Those things are still true, but there are lots more communication options today. Facebook lets people follow your posts, which can be short or long. Twitter (now X) has been a wonderful way to present opinion and guide people to longer articles. If it doesn't implode, it still can be, though it's also become ground zero for nasty opinions, so it's not so much fun anymore. I could list other social media options, but you get the point.

Do we still need blogs? Are they worth the effort? I would say they are needed, but you have to refine your content and consistently create posts. Regular can be monthly, but more often keeps readers looking to your posts.

What do I mean by refine your content? If you write a blog that's akin to a memoir or is your take on life, that's fine. Introspection can draw readers, but it won't in and of itself unless you're especially witty or have established yourself as a public figure or influencer. To clarify, bloggers are content creators who develop material to share information. Influencers generally post opinions or sponsor content to earn money and gain popularity.

Generally, a blog would deal with one or closely related topics (as the Irish Roots Author does with writing). You could cover something as broad as international politics, but if that's your topic, don't write about the importance of Thanksgiving Traditions in your family. That won't be why readers open your posts.

As I pondered this topic for today I (naturally) did a Google search on why people write blogs. I found a very good post by Joe Bunting on how to write blog posts. It's an excellent overview, but also tells you the biggest mistake he made when starting (also the biggest mistake he sees most writers making): he cared more about connecting with himself than readers. I've done that, too. Read his article.

You don't need to be an expert to start a blog. You need to have an interest in a topic, be willing to look beyond your own opinions (a.k.a. do some research as needed), and write cogently.

Consider these points before you start a blog.

1) Are you interested enough in a subject to explore it for years?

2) Can you consistently devote time to writing?

3) Can you continue to do something even if you don't get quick gratification?

4) Do you like your topic and writing about it enough to continue even if you don't get comments or a lot of readers?

5) Can you afford to pay for a host or do you need a free site? 

Numbers 3 and 4 are related. I don't have a lot of subscribers to Irish Roots Author, but I publicize it on Twitter (now X) and my website, so I attract readers. Some months it's 1,000, others it's 3,000 or more. It's more if someone else refers to my blog on theirs or in an article.

If you look to the right of this post, you'll see links to past years and the number of posts. I fluctuated a lot. The first year I wrote 50+ but many were short and some were notices of special sales for my books. I found my stride and try to write three articles per month and use the posts to convey information. A couple years I averaged a lot less -- I thought I needed to devote substantial time to the posts and I was working on multiple books. Now, I simply tell myself to write three each month and if I'm busy to write something short.

I strongly advise an index, especially if you keep at it. Mine is divided into: Reading, writing, publishing, audiobooks, marketing, and musings. The last subject tells you I break my own rule and sometimes write about what's on my mind other than writing.

A final point. A lot of people link a blog to their website or pay the annual fees to have an exclusive name for the blog and a site to host it. I have a website I pay for, but I used blogger's free version in case (as I age) there comes a time when I don't want to spend at least a couple hundred dollars a year to blog. Thus, my site is named Irish Roots Author but the address is

You want to write a blog? Go for it.

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To learn more about Elaine L. Orr, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter 

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Where You Stand Depends on Where You Sit

By Elaine L. Orr 

As a fiction writer, I constantly try to see the world through the eyes of others. Usually these are my fictional characters, but the philosophy came from my parents.

I lived in the DC Metro area, in Maryland, growing up. Every day you saw people who were different than you -- to a child this meant they didn't look or dress like you. I remember the first time I saw a man in  traditional African clothing in a downtown store. I was four or five and embarrassed my mother by asking, loudly, why the many "wore a dress." She replied that that was the way people dressed in his country, and he smiled at me.

Back then, we had three TV stations in DC, two daily newspapers, and a number of AM radio stations. (I don't remember FM in the late 1950s.) News was pretty standard and relayed without a lot of opinions.

Fast forward to today and I couldn't begin to count the ways information and opinions spew to me 24 hours a day. And somehow, the fact that we think or look differently than one another often becomes the basis for shouting matches -- you can tell people are yelling on Twitter because they write in all caps.

In the real word as in fiction, you have to put yourself in another person's perspective. Okay, you don't have to, but life is more fulfilling (and just plain easier) because you spend a lot less time being angry. 

I'm not saying you should smile when someone cuts you off in traffic. You may even feel better if you say a few choice words about them. But if you think about that for the next fifteen minutes, your blood pressure will be up. 

Now, if you're writing a murder mystery and you find the other driver dead in an alley the next morning, you have important reasons to consider their behavior. Why were they driving so fast yesterday? Perhaps they were leaving the scene of another murder. Or maybe they were just racing home to get to the bathroom. Either way, putting yourself in their shoes helps you figure out what's going on. Just like the real world.

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To learn more about Elaine L. Orr, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter