On Facebook Suca Johnson pointed me to this website: Last Seen: Finding Family After Slavery where Villanova graduate students in history are collecting newspaper classified ads that appeared after the Civil War. African American families broken up by slavery began the search for one another. Here’s one I found especially moving:
“Abraham Blackburn, Newburgh, NY, finds his mother after writing 256 letters of inquiry,” Newspaper report of family reunification, Chicago Tribune (Chicago, IL)(reprinted from the Newburgh Journal), December 8, 1886. link
It often takes me a really long time to settle on a name for a character. For example: there is one young woman in Where the Light Enters whose name still is not right. I have some time to fix this — until the copy editing phase closes — but I’m at a loss.
If you had 100+ daughters, you’d likely run out of names, right? Think of it that way. Elizabeth, Hannah, Martha, Lily, Jennet, Anna, Sophie, Rosa, Lia, Laura, Margaret, Nora – all unavailable.
Sometimes I try to get my imagination going by looking at old census records, reading old newspaper stories, or considering fictional characters from 19th century novels. I also spend time looking at paintings from the right time period. This painting by the swedish artist Carl Larsson, (1853-1919, so just about Anna and Sophie’s age) is the kind of thing I mean — it really captures the detail of farming life in the later 1800s. Looking at the clothing of the women working in the fields.
Unfortunately, none of those methods has worked for this new character, who name, right now, is Betty Miller. And that is not right.
What I can tell you about her: she grew up in an orphan asylum, and will eventually come into her own. Where Carl Larsson’s Lisbeth is healthy and happy, my Betty Miller is not either of those things, to start. But hopefully will get there, one day.
So I’d like to hear suggestions, first names or even first and last names. Remember, this is somebody born ca. 1865 so Tiffany or Jordan or Montana won’t work.
Let your imagination run riot, please. If I use the name you come up with, I will thank you in the acknowledgements.
Merriam-Webster’s website has a feature I just discovered, called Time Traveler.
They promote it as a way to see all the words used for the first time in a given year. So for example, in 1880. I stumbled across this because I wondered when the verb stonewall first came into use.
Before you dissolve into puddles of delight, there are some issues to consider. A word may be widely used in a community before it ever finds its way into print, so this kind of dating is restricted in its usefulness. Example: On the 1880 page you’ll find the word handwoven. I can guarantee that this was not a new usage in 1880. How they should come to this conclusion is hard to imagine.
The bigger problem: there’s no detailed information on the etymology. In fact the Etymology Dictionary disagrees with Merriam-Webster on the verb stonewall:
Still, a great place to procrastinate. Had me going for far longer than I intended.