Monday, February 25, 2008

Betina ponders: Family Stories and Writing

Okay, I've been a history buff almost as long as I've been a story buff. I had history teachers who told great stories unlike anything we read in our official textbooks. Travel only cemented my love of history. At age 14, I had one of those mystical museum moments while standing in Independence Hall in Philadelphia. I felt like I was there, at the Continental Congress, listening, absorbing, breathing the same air. I was never quite the same afterward.

I guess it was only natural that I grew to love history; my folks loved it and had lots of stories of our ancestors. There were romantic tales of King Charles I's cavaliers being run out of England and sailing for the new world. There are some records that verify that family members arrived in 1640 or thereabouts. And there's the story about how some of the family were royalists during the American Revolution and were burned out by rebel neighbors and fled across the Appalachian mountains to eastern Kentucky. Like I said, great stories.

Interestingly, as I'm researching my newest book, I've run into some people with my birth name, Maynard, who also have interesting stories to tell. One of them, Frances Evelyn Maynard, who was generally called "Daisy," married Francis Greville, Lord Brooke, the eldest son and heir of George Greville, the 4th earl of Warwick. Apparently Daisy was something of a doozy. This is a picture of her.

She not only inspired the Gay 90's hit song "Daisy Daisy," she also went on to have a grand affair with the future King Edward VII of England. (Queen Victoria's son and heir). She would have been famous enough for that, but she apparently got a hankering for yet another fella and two-timed the future king with a buddy of his, Charles, Baron Beresford. This caused a major split between the future king and his friend and spawned a couple of embarrassing legal tangles that required the Prime Minister to intervene to keep it all from landing in the courts!

Cool! Royal betrayals and intrigues involving sex and power. All started by a little Maynard girl.

Dang, I gotta write a book about this!

As for the Krahns. . . not a lot of flash and dash in their background. When my boys did their 5th grade "family history" project, we didn't have much information on their dad's side. The Krahns were relative newcomers to America-- the 1880's. They settled into the heartland and into lives of productivity and boring respectability. Seeing my boys' disappointment, I mentioned that far back in history, the Krahn ancestors had probably been a part of the Hun hordes. Huns? Yeah, you know. . . barbarian invaders.

Barbarians! All right! The guys were thrilled. Real bad-ass barbarians in the family! I didn't have the heart to disillusion them. But it did get a little annoying when they started calling their dad the "Head Hun." They're old enough to know better now, but there's still a wistful pride in their eyes when they talk about the old Krahns. I can tell they're picturing great, shaggy, battle-hardened warriors who eat with their bare hands.

Anyway, we've now searched out the Krahns as far back as we can go in this country. It turns out that just getting here from Germany was an ordeal. The trip makes for fascinating and heartbreaking reading. The Krahns lost a two year old and a two month old on the trip over-- due to a measles outbreak on the ship. Something like 23 children died in steerage on that trip from Bremen, Germany to Baltimore. Just imagine what that must have been like. . . stuck in that cold, cavernous hold with sick and dying children and mothers going crazy with grief. Aghh. Those folks had to be tough as shoe leather just to survive.

See? Stories. And it all becomes grist for the mill. As a writer I view the world and all its history as source material for great love stories. Even my own history and connections-- loose as they are-- provide a million possible stories.

I could be at this until I'm 90!!!

What about you? Have you found connections to your family stories in your writing research? Ever written about them? Have any stories from your family history that you'd like to share? Got any ancestor skeletons you'd rather keep in the closet? Horse thieves? Bank robbers? Bigamists? Snake oil salesmen? Shady ladies? Come on, you can tell us. . .


Cindy Gerard said...

Hey Betina. Cool beans on the barbarian background :o)
Admittedly, I'm not the history buff you are but I loved listening to my mom and dad tell stories of when they were young. For my family, life was a struggle. My mother's mom died in childbirth with her 3rd child, a daughter, who was adopted and found by my mother and her other sister when they were in their 40's. How sad and yet wonderful is that that they were reunited. Similar struggles on my father's side. His mother died giving birth to him. He grew up on an Indian reservation in Kansas, adopted by his aunt and uncle and his older sisters ended up in an orphanage. Again, very different world.
Thanks for making me think about this again.

Christie Ridgway said...

Betina: I need to spend more time with my aunt! She's done a lot of research on my mother's side of the family. I did learn from her I have what it takes to join the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution). However, also found out that I have a couple of illustrious ancestors who were named "Punkin" and "Puddin." Not kidding.

Betina Krahn said...

Oh, Cindy, what heart-wrenching stories. Interestingly, there are a lot of people in our grandparents generation who have similar incidents and tragedies in their background. Those orphan trains. . . I get chills just thinking about them. I've thought several times about doing an orphan train story, but I can't find any humor in the situation and you have to write what you write. I guess I have to leave that story to some other writer.

Christie, my mom was almost a DAR person. Turns out some things couldn't be verified, so she didn't get to join. She was like 70 when she looked into it. I have no clue why it was important to her then. And I love Punkin' and Puddin'. I personally had two DISTANT, DISTANT relatives who were fat ladies in the circus. Shiver. They were twins and I saw a tin-type of them years ago at my grandmother's house. Annie and Fannie. I kid you not. Did I mention how DISTANTLY we were related?

Betina Krahn said...

Geeze. Some people will tell anything. Apparently I'm one of them. Sigh.

Debra Dixon said...

Betina-- My grandmother, after a fight with my grandfather, took my dad (2 years old) and disappeared. My grandfather married again, but never had another child, finally gave up looking for my dad in 1970.

My sister found him while researching the family. It took her years because at one point we were told he died. She finally decided she had to see his grave and while in that town called his family. (Who were appalled and after much discussion were thrilled to definitively answer, "NO! That's not the same man.") So my sister started calling everyone in every town around there until she hit upon someone who knew the correct man. My father had been told all his life that his birth father hadn't wanted him. My grandmother allowed her second husband to adopt my dad. We didn't even know until my sister tried to get her social security card and the application bounced because the information on it was wrong!

Well...suffice to say that grown men hit their knees in thanks when their prayers of finding their son are answered out of the blue.

At eighty-five years old he was able to sit in a chair and see two grandaughters and 4 great grandchildren spread out in his floor watching Saturday morning cartoons while talking to his son on the phone.

Kathleen Eagle said...

Betina, you've hit on one of my favorite topics. We used to to tell the kids that with Vikings on one side and Lakota Sioux on the other, they were bound to be a little feisty.

Daddy's mother was a wonderful story teller, and did she ever have stories to tell. Granddaddy (from Sweden) was a career Army officer and one of the last horse soldiers. He was in the Spanish American War and "Indian Campaigns." We assume the latter came when he was stationed in the Southwest.

Elizabeth did some online research and found birth and marriage records, info I didn't have. She also sent for Daddy's military records, which are fascinating. She wasn't able to get Granddaddy's. Found out that fire destroyed a lot of WWI era vets' records.

Betina Krahn said...

Wow, Deb-- what a story! I gues in the "olden days" there were a lot of split families where someone disappeared. I've had several friends of late mention a relative that ran off and was never heard from again. I think that might be harder to do these days, with the internet and connected police data bases. And what a wonderful ending to the story! I can just imagine the man sinking to his knees. . . a powerful moment for all involved.
Was there ever an explanation for why his wife left?

Kathy, I know you write a lot out of true stories, some from your own family. Swedish horse soldiers! Wow you guys have horse people on both sides!

It's a shame that so many of the veteran records are damaged or destroyed. I think from now on, they'll be a lot more secure and available. I have another family "story" from my great, great grandfather, who was a scout for the south during the Civil War. But I haven't been able to verify his service through the usual data bases. He was supposedly 17 at the time.

byrdloves2read said...

I've always been fascinated by my father's mother. I think she was 15 when he was born and there are pictures of her playing dress-up AFTER she was married. Ruby ran away with one man who shot and killed her when he found her in bed with another man. She died at 23. This was in Texas in the early 1900's.

Kathleen Eagle said...

Yowsa, Byrd, how exciting...not to mention tragic. My daddy's mother was 15 when she married Granddaddy, who was 30. He father was in the Army, too. Soon after they were married, Granddaddy was sent to the Phillippines, and Grandmother went with him. Involved in that rarely-mentioned-in-US History class little war we had in the P.I. early in the 19th century (rarely studied because we look pretty bad). But my teenage grandmother recalled worrying about getting captured by cannibals (no kidding). The women carried around a string of tin cans that they were supposed to rattle if they were threatened. Oh, for a can of pepper spray.

Debra Dixon said...

Betina-- The wife, my grandmother, kept moving her mother and sister into their apartment. He kept putting them in a different apartment and he'd come home to find she'd moved them back in. They had a particularly nasty fight. My grandfather stomped out and was gone for a couple of days. When he came back the wife had taken the baby away as revenge.

Very sad and without computers, there was no way to track them.

Obviously those two weren't going to be creating an ideal environment for a kid but I was very disappointed when I learned that my grandmother had lied to my dad all his life about being wanted.

Michele Hauf said...

My dad was into tracing the family history a while back, but I think he got out of that. Never did see the results. I do have an interesting relative that I'd love to learn more about. My great-grandma Reichenbach was rumored to have an alliance to the Nazis and it was said she once made a blanket with swastikas on it.

Well, last year my dad asked me if I wanted this old blanket he had found that great-grandma had made. I said sure. I've yet to find any swastikas on the thing, and just treasure it as a gorgeous piece of artwork from a close relative I didn't have a chance to know better.

Gennita said...

Shhh, my ancestor was a sea pirate and he kidnapped my Portugeuse great great greatgrandma and made her his concubine! A pirate romance! Yeeha! I always have a soft spot for them ;-).

Playground Monitor said...

My great-grandpa Will owned a tavern in town. Not a rowdy place, but a nice one like a pub. When Prohibition was voted in, it stopped his liquor sales but he continued to sell food. The family was Baptist back then. When the church found out he'd voted against Prohibition, they kicked him out of the church and that's how my mama's family became Methodist. Mama says she can remember her grandpa taking her for car rides out in the country to a local moonshiner's place and she'd sit on his lap and say "Give me a snort Grandpa" like she heard the older men ask. LOL!


lois greiman said...

Wow!! What a can of worms you have opened Betina!! This is such interesting stuff.

The only interesting stuff I know about my ancestors is that I'm part gypsy...which tells me nothing. I just like the romance of being Rom in my own mind

Betina Krahn said...

Mothers who get shot, tin-can warning system against cannibals, women who can't do without the family, swastika quilts, sea pirates and concubines,and "Give me a snort Grandpa"! Wow, this is quite a group. Who'd have thought that such sensible, level headed women have such wild stuff in their backgrounds!

This is such fun! More! More! Think about it and come back to comment again if you can!

Betina Krahn said...

Gypsy? Lois you fascinating woman, you! Where did you learn this? Is it part of your family lore or did you deduce it from the way you crave hoop earrings and seem to see the future in a Bridge hand? :)

Bridget Locke said...

I've tried finding stuff out about my family, but can't seem to come across too much. Unfortunately, most names were changed when family immigrated, so it's hard to find original stuff.

I do have a funny story though. One of my ancestors inherited land up in Alaska (this was around the turn of the century I think). He took the train up, got off and spit. His spit froze solid before it hit the ground, so he turned around and went back home. I guess it was too cold for him! :)

Betina Krahn said...

Bridget, I love it! The road not taken. Or taken and not liked. LOL.

Yes, a lot of names were changed at Immigration points. . . for the best of motives. But they sure make it hard to trace the old folks. Look at it this way-- you then have carte blanche to make up your own family stories!