Intersection Column | Connecting Your Family’s Past with Your Present
by Leslie Gould
When I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in history, I feared I’d have a hard time finding a job in my field. But at the age of 23, I was hired as the curator of the Swedenburg House Museum in Ashland, Oregon. A dream job for sure!
There were many duties that I loved: researching and creating exhibits, planning and hosting events (some in collaboration with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival), leading downtown walking tours, conducting oral history interviews and coordinating my amazing crew of docents. But a task that I was especially fond of was creating content and presentations about the history of Southern Oregon. My goal? To get students hooked on history and—hopefully in time—their own family stories.
After a few years in Ashland, I left my job at the museum, and my husband, our newborn and I moved to Portland, Oregon. I worked as an editor for a magazine and began writing fiction. We added three more children to our family. Oh, and I went back to university and obtained my master’s in fine arts in creative writing. I was busy!
After writing short stories and then “practice” novels for ten years, I finally signed my first book contract—for a contemporary novel. And then another and another, all modern-day stories. It wasn’t until my twenty-third novel that I finally found my way back to my history degree and curator roots and wrote my first dual-time story (with both a contemporary and historical thread). I’m now on my tenth dual-time story, which seems like the most natural method of storytelling to me. All contemporary stories have a historical backstory—and all historical stories have a flash-forward to the present. We just don’t always choose to tell those stories.
In my current dual-time release, A Brighter Dawn, Ivy Zimmerman—a young Mennonite woman who had been estranged from her grandparents—learns about Clare Simons, a young woman who lived in Nazi Germany during the late 1930s. Ivy, just as I hoped those students back in Ashland would do, realizes her connection to her ancestors for the first time. Clare’s story inspires her to meet challenges in her own life and teaches her the importance of preserving those stories.
That’s exactly what I hope for my readers now.
Back in Ashland, I knew more about the histories of families in Southern Oregon during the last half of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century than I knew about my own family history. And in the last seven years, I’ve created elaborate fictitious family histories for my dual-time stories and—again—know far more about them than my own family branches. All that knowledge about “other” people’s families recently made me start thinking more about my own.
Like Ivy in A Brighter Dawn, I’m finally exploring my own family history. I’ve joined a couple of genealogy sites, deciding to ignore my decades-long excuse that I “don’t have time” to do that sort of research because of my writing deadlines. I’ve also gathered up all the family histories I’ve been given through the years and have reread them. When I think of the daunting task of writing my own memories, I’m even more grateful for the work those before me have done.
In A Brighter Dawn, Ivy makes collages to record her own history and later makes more collages about her parents and other family members. Digital files, photo albums, scrapbooks, quilts, collages, written accounts and oral stories are all ways to preserve family histories. Use whatever methods bring you the most joy!
What will come from my research into my ancestors? No doubt I’ll find inspiration and ideas for characters, and maybe I’ll even come up with fictitious plots based on my own family histories. No matter what, I will keep processing what I’m learning about my ancestors and their stories and how they shaped my parents, siblings, my family and me. I hope these stories will encourage my four grown children, my grandchild and myself too.
And I sincerely hope my readers are being encouraged not only by my stories but also by the histories of their own ancestors—or that they soon will be.
About the Author
Leslie Gould is a Christy Award-winning and #1 bestselling author of over 40 novels, including four Lancaster County Amish series. She holds a bachelor's degree in history and an MFA in creative writing. She enjoys church history, research trips, and hiking in the Pacific Northwest. She and her husband live in Portland, Oregon. www.lesliegould.com
About the Book
Ivy Zimmerman is successfully navigating her life as a young Mennonite woman. But when her parents are killed in a tragic accident, Ivy's way of life is upended. Ivy finds solace in both an upcoming trip to Germany and in her great-great-aunt's story about Clare Simons, another young woman who visited Germany in the late 1930s.
Did You Know?
As an author, “write what you know” has been drilled into my head. But how can a romantic suspense author write about things like serial killers or what kind of gun a police officer carries . . . or as in my latest book, Counter Attack, what kind of chess move a chess master villain would leave at a crime scene?
Pray for direction first, then research, research, research! The internet is full of articles, like what makes a serial killer tick, the types of weapons a law enforcement officer would use, etc.
Contact an expert. Since I haven’t played chess in over 40 years, and was never anywhere near a master, I knew I had to have help. I asked on my Facebook page if there were any chess masters who would be willing to help me. A woman volunteered her brother, and I emailed him. He was delighted to help me—he came up with brilliant chess moves to fit each crime scene and received an acknowledgment in my book.
There is a YouTube video that shows a solution to practically every problem a person could ever have, including information about weapons—use the site!
I hope you enjoyed a little peek into how a suspense writer ensures that their books accurately portray the details of the stories they write.
-Patricia Bradley, Counter Attack
Why I LOVE My Local Christian Bookstore
“I love to shop at bookstores so I can hold books in my hand and read the back of the books to choose which to purchase!”
-Molly Jebber, Rachael's Decision