The letters that inspired Genealogy
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On September 1, 1915, Erwin F. K. stepped aboard a train destined for Seattle, Washington, and settled in the observation car. He noticed a woman select a magazine from a stand and was taken by her. That evening, there was a mix-up with their Pullman berths and Erwin met my great-grandmother.
Five days later, he sailed for the Philippines and she remained in Seattle.
Over four long years and throughout the tumults of the First World War, he wrote her over 40 letters. The last letter is postmarked a few months before my great-grandmother married my great-grandfather. And, although I wouldn't be here if Erwin had married my great-grandmother, my heart broke for Erwin when I read that letter.
I first found the box of Erwin's letters one summer when I was in high school. I spent a lazy day lying on the shag carpeting of my grandparents' living room floor, reading every last word Erwin wrote and imagining his life.
My grandmother explained they were letters that her mother had kept and she couldn't get rid of them, but she'd never read them herself.
While cleaning out the house after my grandmother's passing, my mother found the box of letters again, and the letters came to live with me. They were the one thing I'd wanted from the house. Though, like Ali in the book, I got a lot more things from my grandmother's house, including the dresser with a secret drawer that makes an appearance in the story.
Genealogy doesn't contain Erwin's letters. Instead, I used Erwin and his letters as a jumping off point for creating Elliott and Elliott's letters to Alice.
But how do I know that Erwin met my great-grandmother on September 1, 1915 on a train bound for Seattle?
Luckily, on August 29, 1916, when they'd been separated a year, Erwin wrote a letter reminiscing about how they'd met. Borrowing details from Erwin's letters and expanding upon them and changing them has been a joy. I truly wish I'd been able to meet him.
One day I'd love to share Erwin's letters with his descendants. I'd also love to share the photographs that he sent to my great-grandmother. I've tried my own hand at genealogical research and haven't been able to turn up Erwin's living descendants, but I'm not giving up.
Regardless of whether I ever find his family, Erwin will continue to live in my imagination, and I'll continue to treasure his letters.
In the two years I spent writing the novel, I did lots of research and collected many images. I'e collected some images, including pictures of the real Iloilo Golf Club from around the time of the novel, on a virtual cork board for you to enjoy. Click here to find it.
I also wrote a few more letters from Elliott to Alice that aren't in the book. You can read them for free here. I hope you enjoy Genealogy, and that it warms your heart and inspires you to learn about the people in your life and those who came before you.
I love hearing amazing genealogical stories, so if you've discovered something cool about your family, drop me a line!
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