Your Family Tree

I grew up with an awkward middle name: Lincoln. It wasn’t exactly the pinnacle of cool and hip. As a young child in the ‘70s when most of my friends had middle names like Ann, Marie and Jean, I was well-aware that Lincoln was not a name to be shared out loud if I could help it. The only folks who knew this secret information were the local bank teller and the pediatrician.

As is often the case with family history, details began to emerge as I matured. Soon I realized that my dad had the same middle name, as did his father. By fifth grade, when we began to explore our heritage in school, I started asking more questions and gradually the family lore was revealed. Lincoln had been a last name, and the family had wanted to carry that name on – thus the awkward middle name. Why? “Well, you’re related to Abraham Lincoln, of course.” Hold on! What?? That was a game changer. More comments were being tossed around: “Somehow you’re related through the Tupper line.” “Yes, there was an Eaton. I think a Harriet, from Hingham, MA?” “And there is that Mayflower connection, you know.”

Turns out, I didn’t know. Not at that age, but I was beginning to take note. My father didn’t put a lot of clout in genealogy or family lineage. “Be the best you can be, and serve others” was his unspoken motto. For the most part, I agreed. When I was in my twenties, I would not have placed the subject of genealogy high of my list of interests. After I married, I changed my name, replacing Lincoln with my given surname. That horrid middle name was behind me. Still, my husband was curious. Could those stories really be true?

It wasn’t until I had two Eurasian daughters that it seemed important for them to know about their Chinese and American heritage. When they told fellow students at school that they were related to the 16th President of the United States, they were confronted with disbelief. How could someone who looked like them be related?  “Well, Lincoln had dark hair too,” I told them. But where were the facts?

I began to gather a few family archives from around my parents’ house: the two volume set of the Tupper Family History, a half-hearted family tree, a list my mother had started connecting me back to General Israel Putnam. I tried to Google the Lincoln family tree. Still, I couldn’t quite make the connection back. While I was collecting pieces that would eventually fold together into the family quilt, I had lots of gaps and unravelings.

It wasn’t until I took a spontaneous trip to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City that the dots started to connect. A volunteer helped me set up an account on the online database called Family Search. Patiently she walked me through, inputting my parents’ information, then my grandparents’. Each piece was verified with the vital records. It took about an hour, but when I walked downstairs, I was given an iPad which connected to a wall display. Lo and behold, up popped the famous people in my lineage… and there was President Abraham Lincoln!

When I returned home, however, I wanted to fill in the tree even more. Good thing there wasn’t any shortage of resources at my fingertips. Not only can you have access to various databases through your library card (search under “Books and More” on the norwoodlibrary.org website for “Databases”), including Ancestry Library. This is the “In Library Use Only” version. Some of the Norwood newspapers are now digitized and available online as well, so one can research family stories in the news.

We also have a genealogical expert, Joe Petrie, who will be offering several one-on-one sessions in the fall for those who would like to learn how to do more in-depth online research. These sessions will be two hours long on select Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays in September, October, and November. Be sure to contact our Reference Desk (781-769-0200 x110) to reserve a spot. They are offered at no charge. What an amazing opportunity!

For online research assistance, you can also check out Genealogy Online by Elizabeth Powell Crowe. Here you will “discover how to start your search, find specific types of genealogical information on the Web, and use online tools effectively and efficiently.”

Other helpful resources are in print, too. I found one book so easy to use. The whole topic can be a bit overwhelming, but Genealogy for the First Time by Laura Best made it approachable. Best begins with the chapter “Where do I Start?” and she holds the reader’s hand throughout. In her opening words she says, “Genealogy is, metaphorically speaking, one large puzzle. You may pick up the pieces in any order to place them. However, some pieces will be more difficult to place than others and may need to be set aside until other pieces are fitted together to give better reference and framework.”

As you become more engrossed in your research, your questions will become more difficult. Like, did your great-grandfather really come over on the Rotterdam steamer into Ellis Island in 1896? And was his name originally Bremmer before officials changed it to Brimner upon his arrival? They Came in Ships by John P. Colletta, Ph.D. guides you through your ancestors’ arrival records. There are resources that aide with those picky problems too. For example, there is a series of books for a variety of ancestries. A Genealogist’s Guide to Discovering Your Scottish Ancestors by Linda Jonas and Paul Milner is one of many, also available for English, Italian, and German ancestors.

Likewise, if you have deep roots in New England, the Genealogist’s Handbook for New England Research by the New England Historic Genealogical Society might be your cup of tea. And if you’re feeling like you’re hitting a brick wall, The Family Tree Problem Solver by Marsha Hoffman Rising could offer a ladder up and over those problems.

If you’re already an expert in genealogy, the book Your Guide to Cemetery Research by Sharon DeBartolo Carmack would not be a surprise to you. That said, I was amazed at the research that people do right at the gravesite. Carmack provides guidance for everything from Records of Death and how to read them, to searching the cemetery for clues and rubbings.

Of course now that people are rushing to get a 23andMe personalized report, there are family stories emerging that were hidden for years. Sometimes they can be very revealing. A popular memoir by Dani Shapiro called Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love addresses this very topic. When Shapiro was doing her own genealogical research, she submitted her DNA for analysis on a whim, only to discover that her “beloved deceased father” was not her biological one. Shapiro addresses those secrets within families and what it means to unlock them.

That day in Salt Lake City I was so grateful to have some of the pieces of my family puzzle come together, but that didn’t mean the whole puzzle was complete. Only part of it. If I choose, I can head down more rabbit holes with the family tree. If you decide to do the same, I hope some of these resources hold the key.

Beloved Reader

In many ways the 21st century public library and its role have been re-imagined. In this digital age the library has become much more than a repository for great books. Libraries are promoters of community as well. Take a look at the Morrill Memorial Library events happening in the month of April alone. We have everything from Musical Sundays to talks on Stone Carvers of Old – from Beginning Yoga to The Secret Lives of Owls.

Part of our shifting role includes providing information on the run. As mentioned by the Brookings Institute, “This ‘go-to’ role has influenced library programming and events, with libraries providing advice and connections to health, housing, literacy, and other areas.” Or, in author Neil Gaiman’s words, the library is “a community space. It’s a place of safety, a haven from the world.”

And yes, I could not agree more. In this digital world the library serves as a connector, providing access to information through workshops and speakers and more. At the heart of it all though, the library returns to two essential ingredients 1) free access to information and 2) our beloved readers.

In many ways the idea of free information for all began in Franklin, MA. The Franklin Public Library is considered America’s “first public library” because of Dr. Benjamin Franklin’s book donation for the use of the town’s residents in 1778. The original Franklin collection is still housed in the library’s Reading Gallery, and the United States is now populated by public libraries from sea to shining sea. According to the American Library Association, an estimated 116,867 public libraries exist today. Thankfully, the Morrill Memorial Library is one of them.

Several times at the library I have been approached by a person who recently immigrated to the United States. They cannot believe that our programs and services are free; this world is at their fingertips. Not only is this true here, but in the next town, and the town after that, and the one across the state, and across the country.

Which leads to the other essential ingredient at the heart of our libraries—our beloved reader, the person who lives and breathes for a good book. The person who enters the library, whether child or aged 102, with an empty tote bag, excited to fill it with 5, 10, 15 new reads. For FREE!!

During my years working in the Outreach Department, I have had the privilege of becoming a friend to many beloved readers. Often they are unable to come to the library on their own, so our volunteers deliver books and other items to them. While they miss browsing the bookshelves, they are grateful when these treasures arrive at their doorstep. It’s like a having a birthday every few weeks.

I have worked with many of these beloved patrons over the years but a few have stood out in my mind. Annette Webber was surely one. Sadly, she passed away this March just shy of her 93rdbirthday. Every other week her Outreach volunteer delivered about 15-20 books to her. The most amazing thing was her interests were limitless. Not only did she reread To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee but she gave Lee’s latest novel Go Set a Watchman a try as well. She always loved biographies, especially about politicians. The Kennedy Debutante by Kerri Maher and A Well-Behaved Woman: A Novel of the Vanderbilts by Therese Anne Fowler were two of her latest. However Annette could not be pigeon-holed onto a certain shelf. All-American Murder: The Rise and Fall of Aaron Hernandez, the Superstar Whose Life Ended on Murderers’ Row by James Paterson and Alex Abramovich was also one of her reads, along with Gold Dust Woman: The Biography of Stevie Nicks by Stephen Davis.

Sylvia Clark was another life-long learner. I first met Sylvia when I was running a book discussion at Benchmark Senior Living. She had lost much of her eyesight from macular degeneration but as soon as she realized she could borrow a CD player and audio books from the library, she signed right up. Later I learned that she was an educator who had taught at Maynard High School, Needham High School and Regis College. How I marveled that she was willing to become an auditory learner when necessary. Historical fiction was a favorite genre of hers and she relished books like Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr and The Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly. That said she could tackle a mystery series with equal aplomb, so we would toss in a James Patterson or Daniel Silva novel to keep her going.

Of course these are just two examples of the many beloved readers who have loved the library and all its treasures. It’s nice to know our patrons need the library as much as the library needs them. While the library has stepped boldly into the 21st century, our doors are always open to the patron who is searching for the perfect read.

Together at Last!

I am always amazed to hear stories of authors and illustrators who never connect during the picture book process. How can this be? I know publishers can be a bit leery of any author-illustrator relationship pre-publication. After all the author might attempt to influence the illustrator, or squash her creativity. But I LOVE to find my illustrator on social media right away. If the chance arises to meet her in person, all the better. And the ultimate meet up? You got it! A book signing together. 

Chronicle Books was the perfect matchmaker when they paired illustrator, Alina Chau, with my story Double Happiness. Besides being uber-talented, she’s delightful and humble and fun. While I’ve known this for some time, this summer was the first time I was able to see her in action at our signings in California.

First, we visited Luan Stauss’ Laurel Bookstore in Oakland. Alina’s dog, Coco, joined us. When you’re reading Double Happiness, see if you can find Coco in the book.AlinaandNancyatLaurel

PanelatLaurel
Photo by Selina Liu

 

 

 

 

We had a few celebrities join us at our signings, too. Here’s Mike Jung and his famous donuts: 

MikeJungatLaurel

The next weekend we were privileged to be part of an inaugural event thanks to the Book Shop West Portal and West Portal branch of the San Francisco Public Library. Alina and I read Double Happiness in two voices (Gracie’s and Jake’s) at the library. Alina showed the audience how to draw a few of the characters.

Characters2

We had a celebrity there, too–the lovely Deborah Underwood.DeborahUnderwoodWestPortal

 Our last stop was a totally new venue for me. Trickter is a gallery/bookstore in Berkeley, run by Anita Coulter. 

AlinaNancyAnitaSee what happens when you hang with your illustrator! A whole new world opens before you. 

Now if I can only entice Alina to visit the east coast for a few double signings here. That will be extra happy occasion, for sure. 

(As an aside, I had the best fig pizza ever from Summer Kitchen in Berkeley, but I didn’t get to try Mike’s donuts)

Library Secrets: Part 2

Okay, maybe this isn’t a big secret, but have you discovered this amazing resource at your local library? She’s called the Children’s Librarian. I’ve yet to meet one I didn’t love. What’s great about my children’s librarian is she anticipates my research needs before I voice them. Just the other day she brought over two new books to my office. “Here you go,” she said. “I know you’re writing a story for Fifth Graders. These might help you.” (FYI, I haven’t read them yet, but they are Pie by Sarah Weeks and Dumpling Days by Grace Lin). How much more amazing are the results when I DO ask a direct question; she won’t rest until she’s scoured the physical and electronic shelves for my answer.

Sometimes I have the privilege of working in the Children’s Room at my library. That’s when I realize how much there is to learn. Did you know there’s a great little series out by ABDO Publishers called “Children’s Authors.” Each book features a modern author, such as the beloved Maurice Sendak, Grace Lin, Kate DiCamillo and the Wimpy Kid’s very own Jeff Kinney? It’s also when I get to SNOOP …sneaking a peak at our most recent additions. One of my favorite newbies was selected as a Must-Read by the Mass Book Awards. Neville by Norton Juster (Phantom Tollbooth), illustrated by G. Brian Karas. This is not your average “child moves to a new neighborhood” kind of book. It’s quirky and funny all wrapped into one.

That said, if you haven’t made your way into the Children’s Department of your library lately, put those running shoes on, and head there immediately. Treasures await, and the aren’t just found on the shelve. They may be walking around. 

Epic


It’s official. Fall is here as of today. This is when we ask each other questions such as where did the time go? Or what was your favorite summer memory? Surprisingly one of my best memories took place at the library. I know. It’s hard to believe. After all I did venture off to see black bears and whales in Alaska. What could beat that?

Well, the Teen Poetry Club came close. I had the privilege of introducing teens to a variety of poetic forms and several award-winning poets for five weeks. True, I was wondering who would sign up for this club. I mean, there are trips to the beach, visits to grandparents. I found the answer to that question on the first day—teens who are passionate about writing, and who are really, really good at it, too..

That said, I thought it was only appropriate that I share some of their work (with their permission, of course). I do this for two reasons: first, so you can be thoroughly impressed with the caliber of young writers here in Norwood, and second, so you may think about signing up for this workshop next summer.

Each time we covered a different topic in our workshop. Here’s a poem that one student, Lauren Swank, wrote during our first meeting. We were discussing the use of dreams and special places to jump start our writing when Lauren penned the following:

Dreams

Loud voices come from the excited crowd,

all of these sounds seem so loud.

Will he cooperate throughout the course?

Will he be a good little horse?

I look ahead at the obstacles before me.

All I am thinking about is he

who needs support because his head is down.

I tell him softly “a smile is better than a frown.”

A big horse trots on by.

My little horse seems so shy.

My horse looks up for he is towered

by the horse who has over-powered

my poor shire who is all alone

when the whistle blows he stands like stone.

I softly say “Just take your time”

and after that he seemed just fine.

He did the course in two minutes flat.

We walked past the rest and said “Beat That!”

The judges gave us a First Place prize and

I then could not believe my eyes.

Loud noises came from the excited crowd

and those noises made my shire seem so proud.

Here’s another dream-inspired poem by Dina Delic. She brings her reader right into the strange and stirring place of a dream, or nightmare as the case may be.

Breathe

Light flickers through,

blue-white like an old film,

and I see her,

silently staring at a wall

that

doesn’t

exist.

And I can see her closed lids,

see her struggling to breathe,

because her bone corset is laced too tight.

Her wings are tied up, and she wants to fly,

to feel the air on her skin,

but

she

can’t.

She is laced too tight.

Her corset won’t let her breathe.

Society won’t let her breathe.

The heavy damask curtains won’t let her breathe.

She wants out,

but she can’t get out,

can’t loosen the ribbons restraining her freedom.

The light flickers out,

and I can still see her,

struggling to be free.

To breathe.

Just breathe.

Breathe.

This one is a pantoum by Sara Harder. The poet J. Lorraine Brown came to our club to discuss this particular form. In case you want to try writing one, a pantoum as defined by Merriam Webster is “a series of quatrains rhyming abab in which the second rhyme of a quatrain recurs as the first in the succeeding quatrain, each quatrain introduces a new second rhyme (as bcbc, cdcd).”

Cookies

Sweet and tasty

Crunchy and round

Chocolate chip and peanut butter

Sugar cookies and almond rounds

Crunchy and round

Sticky dough on a baking tray

Sugar cookies and almond rounds

With sugar and flour and butter

Sticky dough on a baking tray

Cooling on a wire rack

With sugar and flour and butter

Mixing in a mixing bowl

Cooling on a wire rack

Chocolate chip and peanut butter

Mixing in a mixing bowl

Cookies, sweet and tasty

Another local poet, Jean Tupper, inspired the teens to write a list poem. After all, everyone has some kind of list. I’ve made my To-Do lists into poems now and then.

Often Haiku can appear deceptively easy. Short and sweet, right? But the students learned from poet, Fran Witham, that there are several key elements to haiku, including a reference to nature. This example is by Lauren Swank.

Frolicking in dandelions
Her head held high
She is free

Our final class was on ekphrastic poetry. JoAnne Preiser showed us famous works of art as inspiration for our own poems. Meenu Ravi write this poem:

Those Who Are

Our sorrows are of worlds whose patina shed

The laughter and beauty of all long lifeless

The saber of new old battles, the coronal of new queens

And jolly and simple and downhearted sorrows of me

With melody in our hands ever- shall we dance

All are our family, the world is our home

Where the voice of the wind sings my wandering feet

Through the echoing woods and the echoing street

What love shall we sow, what peace shall we gather

The voice of the breeze is the voice of our future fate

No love wishes us dawdle, no peace wishes us wait

Where the wind sings our wandering footsteps we go

So yes, when someone asks me what my best summer memory is, I tell them about my teenage poetry club. What started as the seed of an idea, grew into a spectacular experience. As a matter of fact, I think the teens had a pretty good time, too. After all, I received the ultimate compliment from them. Not only did they ask if we could do this again next summer (yah!), but they told me it was “epic.” In teen lingo, that’s not too shabby. Then again, that’s something a few of us knew all along…poetry is definitely “epic!”

Published in the Norwood Transcript 9/23/11