Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Week 50: Larimer County Genealogical Society


Everyone—even the brand-spankin’-newest baby on the block—has a story. That's because a great many of our stories come to us through our families, cultural versions of our inherited physical characteristics such as eye color, high cholesterol, and whatever that second-toe-longer-than-the-first thing is called. And like genes, stories can go unexpressed for years, even generations. When that happens, it takes some serious detective work to uncover them again.

The Larimer County Genealogical Society has been aiding and encouraging family-history-seekers for 37 years. The group was formed in 1974 by six women from the Fort Collins DAR chapter and had twenty-two charter members. The society has been going strong ever since, with monthly meetings, classes, outreach, and the production of the local Geneaology Quest™ TV series. Six times a year, the LCGS puts out an informative newsletter with additional resources, regional programs, and member stories. They have also indexed “eight local cemeteries, Larimer County Marriage Records from 1858 to 1950, Divorce Applications from 1825 to 1950, early Land Records, and the 1885 Colorado State Census.” Whew.

I visited the July meeting/ice cream social and heard local author Karen Schutte speak about how her interest in her German-American ancestry inspired her to write a novel based on the true story of her great-grandparents’ immigration to Lovell, Wyoming in 1906. As the oldest grandchild, Karen felt an obligation to keep her family’s stories alive for her four sons and their children. She collected notes and files for years and initially sought only to record the information. But then the project, as projects so often do, took on a life of its own. A self-described fearless farmgirl, Karen decided she would jump right in and write a novel. And she did. And it’s called The Ticket.

Karen shared slides of old family portraits, maps, ship’s manifests, and other public records from back in the days when everyone who knew how to write had perfect penmanship. Geneaology, she says, is a treasure hunt. Start by talking to relatives. Listen to their stories. Rifle through their dusty boxes of pictures. If possible, visit ancestral places. And jump on the internet and research, research, research.

Writing a novel is a huge undertaking in itself, but I imagine that writing historical fiction about one’s own family is even more so. Crafting a compelling story while remaining true to the facts and being respectful of the opinions of other family members is a challenging balancing act. But Karen found it to be such a gratifying process that she’s still writing. Her second novel, Seed of the Volga, comes out next year, and she’s begun work on her third.

That’s enough to make me want to shake my own family tree and see who or what (Nuts? Monkeys? Captain Jack Sparrow?) falls out.

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