Here’s Part 1 if you missed it.
On my second day in Hastings, I picked up my grandfather’s birth certificate and looked at my great-grandfather’s birth record. The latter confirmed my great-great-grandparents’ names, which led me to finding their marriage certificate and even further lineage back to to towns in Germany! 🙂 My two big visits this day were to the Mt. Hope Cemetery and the Hastings Historical Society.
At Mt. Hope Cemetery, the office gave me directions to my family’s graves by telling me to “look for the Rose family headstone and turn there.” Rose has been a recurring theme in my family, and this moment made me realize I needed to change the title of my collection to a title from one of the stories: “Rose Window.” My ancestors lived for several generations on Rose Street in Hastings, then later generations on Rose Court on Long Island, and my grandfather’s late girlfriend was named Rose.
After paying my respects at the cemetery, I went to the Hastings Historical Society. I found many treasures here. First, there were almost a dozen people in the building and half of them offered to help me. While some folks grabbed files, others looked up their records, and later, others helped me find tapes and a tape player. It happened to be the day of their monthly board meeting and, before they got started with their meeting, they invited me for tea and cookies! The society is in the Draper Cottage. John Draper took the first picture of the moon. I got to sit at his family’s desk to do my research!
The first treasure I found was in a folder on Zinsser & Company, one of the town’s largest employers when my ancestors lived there. I knew my great-grandfather had worked there, so I was curious what it was like. Not only did I find article after article about the working conditions of the factory, but I discovered that my grandfather’s brother worked there too! I learned this as I flipped through the folder and came across an employee ID, my great-uncle’s ID!
The society also found a program of a special banquet honoring employees who had worked at the factory for 25+ years, my great-grandfather among the honorees–and the program was signed!
The most prized treasure is an audio interview from 1988 with my great-uncle. The historical society had produced the Hastings Waterfront Oral History Project that year, briefly referenced in this New York Times article. While my great-uncle goes into detail about what it was like to work at the chemical factory, he also talks about what it was like to live in Hastings back then, and even shared a few sentiments about his parents that unexpectedly brought tears to my eyes. This gem made it evident that I was meant to write this book, and it further confirmed what I had imagined about the town and the people of that time.
I also came across school play programs for another great-uncle, yet another sign from the universe. In one of my stories, a character inspired by an ancestor is in a school play!
Aside from re-titling my collection, I’m making minor tweaks and changes to bring the stories a bit more grounding in their place. My biggest effort right now is independent of family history research. I’m writing a synopsis. I’ve never had to write one before. The rest of the agents on my query list all require a synopsis, so there’s no getting around it. I’ll share a few synopsis writing tips soon!