Monday, August 2, 2010

Finding Your Family in Fiction

As genealogists, we seek facts, the truth. It probably never would have occurred to me to turn to a novel to discover some information about my ancestors.

Thanks to a search on Google books, I found an excerpt from Nebraska author Willa Cather's A Lost Lady (Scholarly Edition). The reference to my 2nd great grandfather is in the Notes section of this edition:

"Before the railroad reached Denver, supplies were carried across Nebraska by wagon. The wagons could carry three to five tons of freight, drawn by six to twelve yoke of oxen. . . .The father-in-law of John Fitzgerald hauled freight from Omaha to Denver."

The references to John Fitzgerald in this edition refer to the millionaire railroad contractor and banker, who was sort of the Warren Buffett of his time. Fitzgerald married my great grandfather's sister, Mary Kelly. Although not named in this book, the father-in-law of John Fitzgerald was William D. Kelly of Kilkenny, Ireland, my great-great grandfather. I've found other references to the freighting done by William D. Kelly and his brothers. Before moving to Omaha, the Kelly brothers freighted from their  home in St. Paul, Minnesota to Denver.

So in this novel, I've found just another small nugget that helps me fill in the fabric of the life of one of my ancestors.

Think outside the box; color outside the lines - you never know what you might find.


  1. Great point! I think this is a great example of looking everywhere for clues about your ancestors.

  2. That is pretty amazing, and you must have been stunned. Are you going to read the book? Through a Google Alert, I discovered that a movie was done about one of my ancestors. Now to check out Google Books. Thanks Susan.