Family Histories: Kin Types by Luanne Castle

Welcome to Family Histories, a series of guest posts by some of my favorite bloggers in which they explore family . . . and history. The families and the histories are sometimes the writers’ own and sometimes not.

This week Luanne Castle discusses how the exploration of family history has enriched her creative life:

By combining a passion for family history with my creative writing, I felt able to—for a brief moment—inhabit the lives of women and men from previous generations and imagine how their stories felt to them.

Family history as done by genealogy buffs only interested in filling in the dates and places of lineal ancestors miss the point. Everybody has ancestors. What becomes fascinating is that by recreating and listening to the stories of previous generations, we learn from the experiences of those who have lived on Earth before us.

Family history is a messy, complicated, and very loose collection of stories bound together with overlaps and gaps and sharing. Those are all the reasons I love it.

And all the reasons that I keep picking at the loose threads, following clues left in documents and photographs, and searching for information to fill in the empty stretches of time—or so it can appear from this angle—of the people who have come before me.

Researching family history is never ending. I’ve been at this for a long time. New information can refine, surprise, or alter what I think I already know. As a writer, this makes my path difficult. There is no moment where I can say to myself, “OK, my research is done. Now I can write.”

Therefore, research has to be done for the sake of the hunt, the rewards fate doles out to me, and an appreciation for the continuous process. In this way, Kin Types is the slim fruit of years of difficult “gardening,” but not the final fruit or the final say.

The following prose poem from Kin Types explores a moment in the life of my great-great-grandfather’s sister, Jennie DeKorn Culver, the custody battle during her divorce.

What Came Between A Woman and Her Duties

14 May 1897

On this Friday, in our fair city of Kalamazoo, Recreation Park refreshment proprietor, John Culver, has applied to the Circuit Court to gain custody of his two young daughters from his divorced wife. The girls currently reside in the Children’s Home. They were accompanied to court by Miss Bradley, the matron of the home.

Mrs. Culver, the divorcée, and the children were represented by J. W. Adams. The father was represented by F.E. Knappen.  Mrs. Culver, pale and stern-looking, wore a shirtwaist with tightly ruched collar and generous mutton sleeves. The strain of her situation shows clearly on her visage. In the past, Mrs. Culver has been aided and abetted by her female friends in the art of painting, as an article of 6 February 1895 in this very daily can attest.

A large number of friends of both parties were in the courtroom and heard emotional pleadings on both sides. Judge Buck ascertained that Mrs. Culver is engaged in the pursuit of an honest living at this time and so ordered that the children remain in the mother’s care. She was given six months to bring them home from the orphanage or they will go into the care of their father and his mother. Let us hope that Mrs. Culver can stay away from the easel.

I used articles from the Kalamazoo Gazette, as well as legal documents, to recreate Jennie’s fight for custody of her two daughters. The only documentation I can find that Jennie was an artist is a newspaper article commemorating the gift of an easel to Jennie during the term of her marriage by her female friends.

Finishing Line Press has published my chapbook, Kin Types, a collection of lyric poetry, prose poems, and flash nonfiction that interprets the lives of some forgotten women in history—my own ancestors.

 Kin Types can be ordered through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Finishing Line Press.

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BIO

luanne-headshotLuanne has been a Fellow at the Center for Ideas and Society at the University of California, Riverside. She studied English, history, and creative writing at UCR (PhD); Western Michigan University (MFA); and the Stanford University writing certificate program. She taught college English for fifteen years. Her scholarly work has been published in academic journals, and she contributed to Twice-Told Children’s Tales: The Influence of Childhood Reading on Writers for Adults, edited by Betty Greenway. Luanne is an amateur genealogist and publishes some of her family history research on the blog thefamilykalamazoo.com.

Winner of the 2015 New Mexico-Arizona Book Award, Doll God, Luanne Castle’s first collection of poetry, was published by Aldrich Press. Luanne’s poetry and prose have appeared in Phoebe, Six Hens, Story Shack, The Antigonish Review, Crack the SpineGristTABRiver TeethLunch TicketThe Review Review, and many other journals. Luanne’s 2017 chapbook Kin Types, forthcoming from Finishing Line Press, was a semi-finalist in the Concrete Wolf Chapbook Contest.

She divides her time between California and Arizona, where she shares land with a herd of javelina. Her heart belongs to her six cats and the homeless cats at the animal shelter where she volunteers.

Luanne’s sites: THE FAMILY KALAMAZOO

WRITERSITE

LUANNE CASTLE: WRITER AND POET

 

 

Please come by next Sunday!

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20 Comments Add yours

  1. Good post. I went to UCR. It had some interesting studies going on there.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Luanne says:

      I wonder if we were there at the same time! I started there in 1990.

      Like

  2. Luanne says:

    Adrienne, thank you so much for this opportunity. History, family history, and local history are subjects dear to my heart, as you know!

    Like

    1. It’s my pleasure! I so enjoyed your poetry book Doll Gods and really can’t wait to read Kin Types. We share a love of families and their stories.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Luanne says:

        Yes, we do! Thank you, Adrienne!

        Like

  3. Luanne says:

    Reblogged this on Writer Site and commented:
    Adrienne at Middlemay Books allowed me the opportunity to guest post about family history, a subject close to my heart and that of Kin Types! Thank you so much, Adrienne.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. So much research, thought, time, and love have gone into Kin Types. It strives to answer mysterious questions about the past — who were Luanne’s ancestors? What were their struggles, their joys?

    Like

    1. I love that kind of stuff!

      Like

  5. Great post, Luanne! One day, I’d love to set aside time to research our family history.

    Like

    1. I think it was St. Augustine who said time did not run in a straight line but more like a jumbled up thread. Sometimes when you discover a piece of the past it feels like two segments of the jumbled up thread become one.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. merrildsmith says:

    Luanne knows this is a subject dear to my heart as well. Great profile!
    I love this story of Jennie’s custody battle.

    Like

    1. The discovery that she was some sort of an artist was also intriguing. There is such a comforting, illuminating thing about even tiny details of people who shared your blood.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. merrildsmith says:

        Oh yes, but of course, then one wants to know even more. 🙂

        Like

  7. notdonner says:

    Wonderful. I received my copy of Kin Types last week! And I love family history. Tracing back to military men, seafarers, scoundrels, scotch-irish merchants and some who made and lost their fortune in America. Kudos!

    Like

    1. We all love to find scoundrels in our history, don’t we? Haha. i have one grand-uncle who was an “artist.” The family used to roll their eyes whenever he was mentioned. He ended up in a home for the criminally insane but no one knows why.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. The title of your book is witty, Luanne. It seems the custody battles haven’t changed in more than a hundred years, though I enjoyed Judge Buck’s admonition that Mrs. Culver stay away from the easel. Your note rings true, that it’s not the organized list of family names but the lives of those people that are the real substance of family trees.

    Like

    1. Men and women seem to lose their minds and hearts in family court.

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      1. Of course they do – there are children involved.

        Like

      2. The whole thing is awful. Thank God my ex and I didn’t fight over the kids but I know so many people who do. Just plain gut wrenching.

        Like

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