Family legends

My next novel is based on the adventures of my great grandmother Nellie Belle Scott. Family legend has it that she divorced her husband and left her children for a career as the first female court reporter in the Pacific Northwest. At a time when most women stayed married and stayed in the kitchen, she traveled the legal circuit and enjoyed the respect of attorneys and judges. Her job was to provide stenographic services in small town courtrooms and newly constructed, big city courthouses.

I had two main sources of material—a sheaf of her short stories I inherited and the stories my family members told, many of them negative. As I researched the sketchy facts of her life I discovered something interesting. Her younger sister Jessie named her daughter Nellie. Obviously, her opinion was not so harsh.

My job as a novelist was to discover what in my great-grandmother’s character inspired such high regard from those who knew her growing up. I now feel I know my great-grandmother, even though she died before I was born. I also understand my family dynamics in a new way.


What legacy will you leave the generations that follow you? You are a link in a generational chain. You are the caretaker of the story trove—memories of mothers and fathers now departed, or young people who left life too soon; perspectives on how we came to be the people we are; documenters of the people, places and things that have formed the culture of our individual tribes.

Timelines record events. Story-lines capture family relationships that fray, possibly to re-thread generations later. The gritty stories we fashion, tell ourselves, and share with each other hold precious truth worth passing down.

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