The first novel I ever read was Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. I was ten or eleven years old. I didn’t read the book in school. My mother bought it for me along with a number of Deluxe Junior Classics published by the Doubleday Company.
I can remember the look of the book: grey with a yellow spine and sketches of the four March girls in blue ink embossed on the cover. I can remember the feel of the book: the pages thick and slightly hairy, typical of Book-of-the-Month Club editions. I can remember the smell of the book: inky and acidy. It was a new book, after all. And I especially recall the thrill of opening the book, which I understood was my rite of passage into the brave new world of grown-up reading.
I loved Little Women. It changed my life as great books often do, but I can’t say the plot stayed with me. It was only recently, when I decided to learn Italian by listening to ‘easier’ audio books, that I became re-acquainted with Louisa May Alcott’s American classic. Over and over again, I listened to each delightful chapter, first in English, then in French, then in Italian. “Piccole Donne”. Superbo in any language.
It is understood that Louisa May Alcott used her own Massachusetts family as a model for Little Women, a work of fiction. Authors often lean on real-life characters for inspiration. Who wants to read about unrealistic characters?
The authors at Genealogy Ensemble are publishing a book of authentic short stories about their ancestors, Beads in a Necklace: Family Stories from Genealogy Ensemble. These stories, many of which saw first light on this blog, will soon be available in a glossy hold-in-your-hands hardcopy format.
Beads in a Necklace also includes personal essays by the nine authors, explaining how each of us was inspired to begin the long, difficult and rewarding journey of writing down our family stories.
Claire Lindell was surfing the Net, way back in its early days, when she came upon an article about her father, a pioneer in the Canadian mining industry.
Barb Angus was inspired by missed opportunities and a book called The Wolfe Pack by a McGill University author, Dr. Mildred Burns.
Lucy Anglin lost her mother very early in life and feels that her stories help honour her memory.
Janice Hamilton grew up with oil paintings of her ancestors on the walls around her.
Tracey Arial first wrote about genealogy for a classroom exercise; not a great experience, but one she looks back on with amusement.
Marian Bulford immigrated to Canada from Great Britain in 1978, but it’s her English sea-side roots that move her to write.
Mary Sutherland was inspired by her father once saying, “Find your way home,” and by some fine family heirlooms.
Sandra McHugh was inspired by her ‘two solitudes’ marriage and her Greek husband’s very different kind of family.
I myself got my start when I found 300 family letters from the 1910 period that had belonged to my husband’s ancestors from Richmond, Quebec. I read them out loud to a good friend who said, “Ick. They sound so old-fashioned.”
But I saw something else in these letters. I saw the story of a strong matriarch and her very spirited young daughters, who had known much better financial times but were making the best it.
I saw women who were on their own, in their fine house in the good part of town, because their men-folk were far away.
I saw proud, independent women who sometimes relied on the kindness of a well-off, gentlemanly neighbour to drive them to the post office or to shovel out their walk in winter.
It was the plot of Little Women, but with characters from real-life closely related to my husband and my very own children! How could I possibly resist that?
Beads in a Necklace: family stories from Genealogy Ensemble will be launched in mid-November. A limited number of hard copies will be available for purchase, locally.
Check back with http://www.genealogyensemble.com to find out how to buy one of these rare first editions. An e-book version will be available at launch, as well, with print-on-demand capability by Christmas.
The chapter on the Laurier Era from Canada Then and Now, my fifth grade history textbook. I read this, too, back in the day, but I was not impressed. This was a typical textbook, filled with sturdy but dull prose and employing a narrative style devoid of colour and controversy. This chapter, about a most pivotal time in history, made no mention of suffragettes and restless young women in harem pants. In fact, there are only two women in the entire textbook: Marguerite Bourgeoys and Jeanne Mance, worthy women, no question, but only two? Beads in a Necklace showcases many of our worthy women ancestors. It’s terrific social history.