Friday, February 26, 2021

It’s All in the Family: Tips for Finding Family Sources

By Nancy Churnin


In nonfiction, your stories are only as sturdy as the facts that you use to build them. So where can you find facts that will hold up? We’ve had and will have many great posts about where and how to do research during NF Fest. I want to address sleuthing something more personal – family sources.

How do you find family members of your subjects to interview and verify information? Put on your detective hat, take out your magnifying glass, and look for clues. When I wanted to write about the artist Laura Wheeler Waring in Beautiful Shades of Brown, I couldn’t find books about her. What I did find were images of her paintings – in particular, one of Marian Anderson – that I wanted to include in my story. The painting was my first clue. It led me to search for the museum that had those paintings in their collection. That museum was the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C.

It was hard at first getting someone at the National Portrait Gallery to answer an email or the phone. But I was persistent. Finally, a kind person directed me to the archives and someone at the archives provided me with an email that eventually put me in touch with Erin Beasley, who provided me with a wealth of information on Waring. Erin Beasley also reached out on my behalf to Waring’s heir, Madeline Murphy Rabb.

Each subject presents its own puzzle. Because Waring was a painter, my research path led me to a museum. When I was researching Katharine Lee Bates for For Spacious Skies, the clue that opened up my research path was that she had been the chair of the English department at Wellesley University. I reached out to English department at Wellesley, and was referred to Rebecca Goldsmith, college archivist at Wellesley College, who provided copies of some of her papers that gave me access to Katharine’s thoughts in her own words. Rebecca Goldsmith also put me in touch with her heirs and great-great grandnieces, Katharine Lee Holland and Elizabeth Olmstead Null.

 


Clues can be found in the subject’s work history and/or profession. If you’re exploring a sports figure, try contacting any hall of fame or sports organization where that person is honored. If the person is a scientist, find out where that person worked or taught. In each case, someone in that institution may provide you with valuable information and be able to put you in touch with family members. The way this often works is that the institution, respecting the family’s privacy, will forward your request and leave it to the family if they wish to be in touch with you.

Now you may wonder if you need to contact family members. Sometimes, there is already a lot of information available in books about your subject. Sometimes, talking to family members is not always possible. When I was researching Queen Charlotte for The Queen and the First Christmas Tree, I didn’t bother trying to reach out to someone in the royal family for an interview as I knew it was highly unlikely anyone there would return my call. However, I did reach out to Dr. Carolyn Harris, a royal commentator and professor of history who wrote multiple books about the history of the royal family, including Raising Royalty: 1000 Years of Royal Parenting (Dundurn Press 2017).

If the person is a public figure, you aren’t legally obliged to reach out to family members. But I’ve never regretted trying. Not only can family members correct mistakes that are floating out there about your subject, but family members have supplied my best nuggets of information. Children have told me that a favorite moment in Beautiful Shades of Brown is when Waring bribes her siblings to sit for portraits by giving them peppermints that she kept in her pockets. That detail came from Waring’s great grandniece, Madeline Murphy Rabb, who laughed on the phone as she shared the memory of how Waring bribed her nieces and nephews with candies, too.


 

So put on your detective hat, get out your magnifying glass and look for clues. Is your path through your subject’s alma mater? A workplace? A museum that holds paintings or artifacts or plaques of commemoration? Is there a source or survivor named in your subject’s obituary, or maybe a reporter in the person’s hometown or last city of residence who might be able to point you in the right direction? You never know what precious facts are out there, glittering, waiting to be found.

 

ACTIVITY

Create a family tree for a subject of interest and fill it out as thoroughly as you can. List at least three specific sources for where you would you go or who would you contact to fill in the missing parts or to make sure you have all the key members of the tree, such as your subject’s alma mater, hometown, places of work, home at end of life, places that have recognized or honored.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nancy Churnin, one of the Nonfiction Chicks and a Nonfiction Ninja, is the author of 10 nonfiction picture books, two of which are coming out in October: Dear Mr. Dickens and A Queen to the Rescue, the Story of Henrietta Szold, Founder of Hadassah. Among her awards: South Asia Book Award, Sakura Medal finalist, Anne Izard Storytellers Choice Award, three Notable Social Studies Trade Books, three Silver Eurekas, three A Mighty Girls, a Notable Book for a Global Society, a Sydney Taylor Book Award Notable and multiple state reading lists. Nancy lives in North Texas with her husband, a dog named Dog, and two cantankerous cats. Visit her at nancychurnin.com; on Facebook at Nancy Churnin and Nancy Churnin Children’s Books; and on Twitter and Instagram @nchurnin.
 

ABOUT THE PRIZE 

Nancy is giving away an autographed copy of For Spacious Skies, Katharine Lee Bates, and the Inspiration for “America the Beautiful,” A Mighty Girl book, illustrated by Olga Baumert (Albert Whitman & Company).

 

 

 

     

143 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Thanks, Linda. I'm so happy you found it helpful!

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  2. Great post about where to gather information! I have two of your books that I won as prizes in Susannah Hill’s Hiliday Writing Contest that I cherish! I’m new to writing nonfiction so your information is a valuable resource. I’m a fellow North Texan!

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    1. I'm so glad you enjoyed the books and the post, Marty! Great to say hi to a fellow North Texan! Nonfiction is a wonderful adventure, you'll enjoy it.

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    1. No worries, Marty. And save those typos -- you never know when one may lead to a wonderful idea!

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  4. Thanks for the insights about finding living sources.

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    1. Thank you, Jessica, I'm glad it was helpful to you! Good luck on your writing projects!

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    1. Thank you, Katherine. I'm happy it was helpful. I hope you'll put them to good use on your writing projects!

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  6. Thank you! I am working on a biography of a scientist and I know her family live in my hometown but had not thought of contacting mIT where she taught and worked on her PHD. Great detailed tips on getting interviews!

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    1. You're welcome, Mary. Universities can be great resources! She may have her papers there and, if not, they may know where her papers are. Plus, you may even get to make contact with someone she taught or someone she worked with. Good luck on your project!

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  7. These books look gorgeous! Thanks for these tips!

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    1. Thank you so much, Callie. I'm glad the tips are helpful. Good luck on your writing projects!

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  8. Nancy, look at all those books!! And I love your advice to do the detective work. Considering HARRIET THE SPY was one of my favorite books as a child and I thought I wanted to be a PI, this sounds like a fun way to be productive and live the dream!! Thank you!

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    1. Colleen, I loved Harriet the Spy and Encyclopedia Brown, too! I'm glad the post was helpful to you. Good luck on your projects!

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  9. Thank you for sharing all the sources and ideas for finding informations about families. It was really helpful.

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    1. Thank you, Natalie. I'm so happy it was helpful. I have loved getting to know the families of the people I write about. It is a privilege and a joy. Good luck in your projects!

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  10. Nancy, this is a great post, and a perfect example of how research is truly detective work. Thanks for sharing these inspiring stories. And now... I'm going to go make a family tree for my latest biographical subject. THAT is a great idea.

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    1. Thanks for the kind words, Candy, they are much appreciated! I am so glad you like the idea of making a family tree. It helps me sort out my person and place the person in time and place and in relationship to others. That proved incredibly helpful with my newest book, coming out in October, Dear Mr. Dickens!

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  11. Replies
    1. Thank you, Elizabeth. I'm so glad it was helpful to you! Good luck with your writing projects. Happy sleuthing!

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  12. I think it's cool, Nancy, that you talked to all those interesting people to find out more about the people you were researching. It clearly worked out well for you. I'll have to try it.

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    1. Robin, it was not only helpful for my research and writing, in many cases I have made friends for life and that has been the most precious gift of all. Good luck with your writing projects!

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  13. Writing nonfiction is like going on a treasure hunt or digging for gold. Thank you for shining a light on the gems that can be found in the alma mater, a museum, or even from a hometown reporter!

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    1. Thank you, Lori. I am so happy that this post may be helpful to you. I get giddy with excitement when I uncover one of these gems of connection. And in many cases, they have led to lasting friendships, which is most precious jewel of all!

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  14. Nancy, you have so much good information to share and you are always so gracious. Thanks.

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    1. Sherri, you are so kind to say so. I am happy that this post has been helpful to you. I am excited about your writing projects and wish you the best of luck with all of them!

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  15. Thanks for sharing, Nancy! I love reading about your research. My research tends to be about endangered animals and habitats. And I'm building up the courage to reach out to an organization that could support and/or correct my research.

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    1. Manju, the organizations will be happy to have you reach out to them! The people who work there have dedicated lifetimes to helping endangered animals and their greatest frustration often is the difficulty of getting the word out about how important and vital their work is to saving these precious animals and their habitats. You are offering them a great gift, a chance to spread the word and gather advocates for their mission. They will appreciate your passion to get the facts right and your dedication to helping these animals through books that children will cherish. Go for it!

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  16. Thank you Nancy. I will do your suggestion with a current project. Congratulations on all your upcoming and continued success!

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    1. Thank you, Diane. I am so happy this post was helpful for you. I wish you joy on your current project. Writing can be hard work with all the rewriting and revision that it entails, but it is also wonderful isn't it, discovering new facts, having new insights burst into light like fireworks in the sky? I appreciate your kind words for my books. I am excited about the books you are going to bring into the world!

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  17. Great post - thanks for reminding us that we are more than writers: we are DETECTIVES! We gather bits of the puzzle and solve mysteries.

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  18. Sue, isn't that the truth! Just today, I heard from a family source about a work in progress and I learned new things. That is one of the many things I love about our chosen work as kid lit authors, we are lifetime detectives and lifetime learners! Wishing you all good luck on your writing projects and marvelous mysteries to be solved.

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  19. Thanks, Nancy ~ great to hear how you went about your sleuthing!

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    1. Thanks, Cheryl. The sleuthing is actually a lot of fun! I'm glad it was helpful to you. I look forward to hearing about your discoveries.

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  20. This is very timely for me as I'm about to start my search for known family members for my work in progress. Let the sleuthing begin! Thanks for the inspiration today.

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    1. I'm so glad it was helpful, Linda. Wishing you wonderful and happy discoveries. You may also find new friends in these family members. I treasure the friendships I have made on my research journeys.

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  21. A fantastic read, I love how you found the candy reference, over the phone! What a lovely personal touch to your research.

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    1. That was so much fun! I am so grateful to Madeline Murphy Rabb for sharing that with me! Good luck in finding your own sweet treasures!

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  22. Perfect and timely for my research into several important historical manuscripts! Your books are important and beautifuly written and illustrated. Thank you Nancy Churin! I would love a copy to share with my grands, all the while, singing this lovely heartfelt hymn we were proud and raised to sing.

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    1. Thank you for the kind words, Deb! You'll find lots of resources as well as a curriculum guide on my website, nancychurnin.com, too. That's another cool thing about the sleuthing and research. Save all those notes for your website and curriculum guide -- and for school presentations. The kids will love hearing about your journey, including the jewels that don't make it into the manuscript.

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  23. Thank you for suggestions on tracking down the facts. I look forward to the discoveries!

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    1. I'm happy it was helpful to you, Paula. I am wishing you lots of joy on your sleuthing journey. It can be an amazing adventure that can take your story and your ideas to wonderful, unexpected places.

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  24. Nancy, I always enjoy your books. Looking forward to the next two. Thanks for the research tips!

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    1. Thanks for the kind words! I'm glad the research tips were helpful. It can seem like a lot of work, all that searching -- but it is so worth it. Every book project is the beginning of an adventure with treasures to find!

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  25. Thank you so much for sharing. You've inspired me to take a fresh look at possible contacts for a story I'm writing.

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    1. I'm so glad, Kaye! I hope you enjoy the research journey and find many happy surprises!

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  26. I really enjoy reading about Nancy's process, which I'd learned a little bit about previously!

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    1. Thanks for the kind words, Teresa! I love hearing about your process, too. It was so much fun getting to do a presentation together!

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  27. Thanks so much, Nancy! Interesting and inspiring!

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    1. I'm glad it was helpful, Rose. Wishing you happy sleuthing and many thrilling discoveries on your research journey!

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  28. Nancy, thank you for your valuable research tips. I love your books!

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    1. Thanks for the kind words, Melissa! I'm glad the research tips were helpful. I treasure the friendships I've made through seeking out family members of my subjects. I wish you a wonderful time getting to know the families of your subjects, too.

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  29. Always happy to hear from the amazing Ms. Churnin. Your tips are as valuable as your texts. Can’t wait to add your new releases to my collection. Thanks for the insight!

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    1. Thanks for the kind words, Joanne! I'm so happy the tips are helpful to you. It has been such a joy getting to know family members of the subjects. I wish you joy in your journey as you reach out to the people in the lives of your subjects.

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  30. Nancy, these tips for finding family sources are appreciated. Your detective work and the examples shared have terrific insight. Thank you!

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    1. I'm so glad this was helpful for you, Charlotte. It can take a while to track down the people you need, but when you do it is so satisfying. It is a particular joy when you find family members who are thrilled to help you with your story.

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  31. Great list of ideas for finding facts! Thanks for these!

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    1. I'm so glad this was helpful to you, Lynn! I am wishing you good fortune and fun in tracking down the people you need for your stories!

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  32. Like your young readers, I love the small details like peppermint bribes! Thanks for a terrific post Nancy! Your books are fascinating.

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    1. Thank you, Lindsey. As we research, we collect lots of cool bits of information and then sometimes, when someone shares a detail like the peppermint bribes -- well, you know it's gold! Glad you like it as much as the kids and I do -- it shows you know kids! Wishing you many treasures on your fact-finding journeys.

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  33. Like your young readers, I love the small details like peppermint bribes! Thanks for a terrific post Nancy! Your books are fascinating.

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  34. Nancy- scintillating as always!! Great ideas here too, thanks for the inspiration.

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    1. So glad you enjoyed, Lydia! I'm glad this was helpful. Wishing you lots of wonderful finds as you go on your fact- and person-finding missions!

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  35. As a research geek, I love hearing tips about potential sources! Thanks so much for adding more ideas to my list(s). I think it's so joyful to see others light up when asked about a topic that's well-known to them.

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    1. Thanks, PJ. I'm glad it was helpful to you! And it's true. Sometimes you think you might be bothering someone, only to find out how deeply happy they are to share this information that is so precious to them and have it be more widely known and appreciated.

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  36. Thanks for an inspiring post! I love discovering small details, especially things like the peppermint bribes, that will really resonate with kids.

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    1. Thanks, Traci, I'm glad it was helpful to you! I was so excited to hear about the peppermint bribes and I love how the illustrator, Felicia Marshall, picked up on that and worked it into her illustrations! Very grateful to Madeline Murphy Rabb, Laura Wheeler Waring's great grandniece, for sharing that with me!

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    1. Thank you, Ellen, appreciate the kind words! Wishing you lots of wonderful discoveries and lovely new friends on your writing research journeys!

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  38. Thanks for sharing! Your books look beautiful. I especially loved the spread from Beautiful Shades of Brown. Once I had trouble contacting a scientist and the communications department of a college was helpful in getting him to respond.

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    1. Linda, thank you for the kind words! I know, didn't Felicia Marshall do an amazing job? She picked right up on the candy bribes -- I love how she portrayed that. That was a smart move on your part to reach out to the communications department of the college. The communications department wants stories about people associated with its college -- it makes them look good. They can be very helpful in giving a person you need a nudge. That's how I was able to reach the heirs of Katharine Lee Bates!

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  39. Wonderful post, Nancy! Each research project teaches me more about where to look. Your post adds to the possibilities. Thanks!

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    1. Thank you, Beth. You are already an amazing researcher and could write a fascinating post on this topic! I'm so glad I was able to be of help to you. I love how we all lift each other up in this wonderful kid lit community.

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  40. Wonderful article and such inspiration! I'm reaching out to s primary source next week! Thanks for the push!

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    1. Thanks, Jean, I'm glad it was helpful to you! Remember, when you reach out, that your primary source is usually (not always, I'll be honest), but usually thrilled to hear from you. People want their family remembered for the great things they did. Reaching out to them is a kindness that is often much appreciated. That has been my happy experience.

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  41. Thanks, Nancy, for this advice. I feel like a detective when I research the lives of my PB biography subjects, and when I can get closer and closer to my subject through someone who actually KNEW him/her, it's a goose bump moment. Thanks for sharing your expertise!
    Question--If something a relative says contradicts what's been documented, will you more likely take the relative's point as fact?

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    1. Ann, I'm glad this was helpful to you. Now that is a great question about finding contradictions. That actually happened to me while I was researching Laura Wheeler Waring. The museum had written up something about her that indicated she had met Marian Anderson in Paris. Well, when I looked up when Laura and Marian had been in Paris, it had never been at the same time. Laura's relative then went through her Laura's diaries and consulted family members and we determined that Laura first heard Marian sing in Philadelphia! The museum agreed. Sometimes if you dig far enough you may find errors in official accounts. The bottom line is that you have to dig until you figure out the most reliable source for the information in contradiction. There will also be cases when you can't figure out which is the truth and then you have to word it in such a way to indicate that. For example: Some say XXX and some say XXX, but all we really know for sure is XXX. Not those exact words, but there are ways to write it that indicate that no one can know for sure.

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  42. Inspirational Post, I started making notes about where I could look before I finished reading the blog. My subject was the first woman school superintendent in a state and I hadn't even considered reaching out to the SDE.

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    1. I'm so glad this was helpful to you, Tonya! I'm sure the SDE will be very helpful to you. The great part about making this connection is that not only will it help you with the research for your story, but they may want to support your book after it comes out. As the first woman school superintendent, your subject affected many lives. Your research may take you to all sorts of interesting places. Be sure to check with education reporters who may have covered her, too.

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  43. Thanks so much for reassuring us that if it's a public figure, we aren't obligated to contact the families - so nice to know!

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    1. I'm glad it was helpful, Echo. Yes, my friend wrote a biography of Simone Biles and never talked with her (and didn't need to) because she is a public figure. That said, if you can get the help of families, it is usually an asset. Not only can they help you with the research, they might then support the book after it comes out.

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  44. I love the idea of making a family tree. When I was researching the "Goat Man" recently, I actually went to Ancestry.com and found a couple of his relatives and sent them messages. I still haven't heard back, but I'm still trying. In the meantime, I'm researching someone whose living, so I hope to visit her soon!

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    1. I'm glad you found it helpful, Diane. It can get tricky reaching out to relatives directly, particularly if they are private citizens. It's good to know who they are. But it usually works better if you can find someone from their alma mater, foundation, place of work, organization who can reach out and make that introduction for you. Good luck with reaching out to your liking subject. I have made wonderful friends that way!

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  45. Looking forward to reading For Spacious Skies...and of course we both know that Irving Berlin's eldest daughter is super helpful!

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    1. Thank you, I hope you enjoy it! And yes, I am so grateful to Irving Berlin's eldest daughter for her help with my Irving Berlin book. It is so cool the people we meet on our book journeys, isn't it?

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  46. Great post, Nancy. Persistence is definitely key. I'm absolutely going to be using these tips.

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    1. I'm so glad it was helpful to you, Pam. I hope you find many wonderful treasures on your writing journey!

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  47. Thank you for the posting. I am working on a story and have had questions about the research angle. Your points have made an impression! I will definitely dig a little deeper. :)

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    1. I'm so glad it was helpful, Susan. It can be an investment in time trying to connect with your subject's family members, but it can pay off in treasures you won't find anywhere else.

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  48. Excellent post, Nancy. Thank you for sharing ways to dig deeper into research to support a story with facts.

    Suzy Leopold

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    1. I'm so glad it was helpful to you, Suzy. I have enjoyed getting to know family members and experts who know my subjects well. Just today, I heard from a subject about a manuscript I was working on and I am thrilled. I wish you the same joy!

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  49. Great post! In my work for Colorado's online encyclopedia, I have found that a subscription to Ancestry has paid off in being able to try to get at family trees.

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    1. I'm glad you found it helpful, Susan. That's a great idea to use Ancestry. The one caution I would give you is that a family member who is a private person might be a little wary about being contacted directly. However, if you know who you need to contact, you might be able to ask for an introduction to that person through your subject's alma mater, foundation, place of work, museum, etc.

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  50. Thanks for a great post, Nancy! I appreciate your research tenacity - all the wonderful details that you include truly bring your stories to life. Looking forward to your upcoming books!

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    1. Thank you for the kind words, Melissa! I am looking forward to your new books, too!

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  51. Thank you so much for this great post Nancy! I've come to appreciate the insights that family members can provide to offer personal details about my subjects.

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    1. I'm so glad you found it helpful, Julie. Congratulations on already being on your journey talking with family members. I have made wonderful friends this way and I hope you do, too!

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  52. Thank you for the fantastic post. Your book looks wonderful.

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    1. Thank you for the kind words, Bettie. I'm glad you enjoyed the post! Wishing you all good things in your writing journey. May you find many treasures!

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  53. Thanks, Nancy for helping us to become our own detectives. In an earlier post here, Ann Magee posed an interesting question. What do you think?

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    1. I'm glad you found it helpful, Mona. Ann asked a great question. I think it provoked my lengthiest answer! Please let me know if it answers your questions as well. If not, please send me your follow-up question.

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  54. Such a great post Nancy! I remember that you talked about this a bit with our students during our school visit with you last year. Manjhi Moves A Mountain remains a favorite on our campus. I love the detective part of research and will use your valuable research tips to continue my work.

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    1. Thank you for the kind words, Dayna! It was a joy sharing Manjhi Moves a Mountain with your great students. I am grateful for your warm welcome. I'm glad the detective part of research resonates with you. I hope you find many treasures -- and good friends -- on your writing journey. When a writer finds a treasure, we are all the richer for it!

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  55. Being a detective can be fun! Thanks for sharing, Nancy!

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    1. I'm glad you found it helpful, Terri. I wish you fun and joy in the journey. May you find many treasures on your journey to share with us!

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    1. Thank you, I'm so glad you found it helpful! Wishing you a joyful writing journey. May you find many treasures!

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  57. Finding sources can be difficult, but you have gifted us new tools to get the job done. I loved the detail about the peppermints. Dear ails like that one breathe life into your marvelous stories. Thank you!

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    1. Thanks, Carmela. I'm so glad you found it helpful! It was so wonderful learning about the peppermints. I loved how the illustrator, Felicia Marshall, incorporated that in her amazing artwork. Wishing you joy on your writing journey. May you find many wonderful treasures!

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  58. Thanks, Nancy. Your books are an inspiration to me! I loved this post! I've been trying to find family members of my subject since 2017. I've followed every lead and eventually ended up calling random people remotely connected to my leads. Recently, my random phone calling campaign (which lasted over a year and a half) paid off! I'm hoping I find nuggets to add. At the very least, the family member is excited about the book!

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    1. I'm so glad you found it helpful, Penny! Congratulations on your perseverance and success in finding a family member. Isn't that the best? The fact that the family member is excited is BIG. Not only can this family member be a great resource as you write the book, it will make a big difference when you pitch-- sell -- the book to have this support from a family member. And it will pay off again when your book comes out and the family member is one of your supporters and fans. Way to go, Penny!

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  59. The family tree has been a big part of my current project research, but your saying so just reinforces how useful a tool it is. Thanks for sharing all your sleuth techniques.

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    1. I'm so glad you found the post helpful. The family tree is not only a source of people to contact, but it gives me insight into my subject as I better understand his or her relationships. There's a lot you will find there that may never make it into the book, but it will make the book better all the same. Good luck in your sleuthing journey. May you find many treasures!

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  60. Great post Nancy. Wonderful ideas of ways to track down information on your subject. I've hitting a stone wall with one of my subjects; stymied librarians in four libraries and no luck in tracking down anything but cursory information. Thanks for the reminder of the workplace and end of life location. Here's to sleuthing. Love your books and looking forward to your upcoming ones.

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    1. I'm so glad you found it helpful. The workplace, the end of life location are good. Alma maters can be great. Communications departments at universities love to see their alumni promoted -- they may go out of their way to help you locate relatives or people who know your subject. If the person was famous, journalists who have written about your subject can be a good source. Read obituaries carefully to see who is mentioned or what organizations are referenced. Thank you for the kind words. Good luck with your sleuthing. May you find many treasures!

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  61. Hi, Ms. Churnin. I'm a big fan and follow you wherever I can find you. I've requested that the libraries here in Montreal
    purchase more of your books. (The Jewish Public Library only has one and the Eleanor London Library has two.) I'm wondering if one needs permission to write about a public figure who is alive. And thank you for the research tips!

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    1. Thank you for the kind words, Freda, and for requesting my books at your libraries. It is much appreciated! Regarding permission to write about a public figure who is alive -- it's tricky. If the person is famous, you don't need permission. For example, a friend of mine wrote about Simone Biles, who is famous, and she did not need permission. I am working on a manuscript now about an athlete who won a gold medal. But even though she won a gold medal, you would not recognize her name and therefore she is not considered a public figure. So I needed (and got) her permission. The great part about getting permission, if you can, are the things you might discover and the support you may get afterwards. But you don't need permission if the person is truly public -- their name has immediate recognition -- dead or alive. Wishing you a joyful writing journey. May you find many treasures to share with us all!

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    2. Thank you so much for responding and for the advice. I'm very grateful!

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  62. This is great, Nancy. I remember connecting with you in a class about P.S. 86 in the Bronx! I have interviewed a family member for a PB bio and it was both nerve-wracking and delightful. Thank you for these tips. They're wonderful.

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    1. So glad you found it helpful, Mary! That was a happy time, being back at P.S.86, my alma mater. It's amazing thinking about what my elementary school self would have thought of all that. Congratulations on finding and interviewing a family member for your PB bio. I hear you about it being nerve-wracking and delightful! Remember that not only can that family member be a valuable resource for your writing, you'll want to include in your pitch letter the support you have from a family member. The family member may also be a wonderful support when the book comes out. Wishing you a wonderful book journey. May you continue to find many treasures!

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  63. Tracking down info like a detective-- thanks for the tips, Nancy. Your books are lovely.

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    1. Maria, thank you for your kind words! I'm so glad the post was helpful to you. Your books are lovely. You are a phenomenal researcher and I look forward to reading YOUR tips, too!

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  64. Thank you, Nancy, for sharing your expertise on writing biographies. I'm writing a second one and waiting to see what happens with my first one. Will certainly try your techniques and read your books!

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    1. I'm so glad the post was helpful to you, Zoraida! Enjoy the journey. Sometimes the work finds a home right away. Sometimes it takes a while. I have a book coming out this year that I first wrote in 2013! I hope your success comes quickly. But whatever happens, keep going and you'll get there. Enjoy the treasures you find along the way.

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  65. Great tips for sleuthing, a couple I've never really thought of before!

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    1. I'm so glad it was helpful to you, Tanya! Wishing you joy on your writing journey. May you find many treasures!

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  66. A fantastic post! Thank you for the sleuthing tips. I struggle with getting up the nerve to interview people I do not know personally. Now I have a new skill set to learn about and work on this year.

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    1. I'm glad it was helpful to you, Krissy. Here are a few things I tell myself when it feels hard to work up the nerve to approach people. The worst they can say is no and if they say no, I'm where I was when I started and I can seek another source for information. Plus, you will often be surprised at how flattered and please people are to share the great stories of people who were their family or colleagues who might otherwise be forgotten. I have made some of my dearest and most lasting friendships through reaching out to people. I have one subject whose book hasn't yet sold. I reached out to her in 2014! We are still friends, book sold or not (I haven't given up). But the friendship is bigger than the book. Get your courage up, the rewards are great (and bigger than the books).

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  67. Nancy, your work is beautiful.

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    1. Thank you for the kind words, Joyce. Your words fill my heart and lift my spirits. Wishing you joy on your book journeys. May you find many treasures to warm your heart!

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  68. My historical fiction chapter book, HISTORY'S MYSTERIES: The Chocolate Train Wreck, is about a train wreck dumping 20 ton of chocolate on a sleepy village. I did some detective sleuthing to discover not only the train museum curator who provided copies of the actual wreck footage from police records, I also did first hand interviews with some elderly patrons who were children during the actual event. The research was pure fun!

    Great post!

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    1. Donna, I'm so glad you enjoyed the post. Your book sounds AMAZING. I will have to find and read it. I bet you could write a great NFFest post on how you did your detective sleuthing. What terrific finds you made. Seeing the actual wreck footage and having first hand interviews roots your work in authenticity, while giving your imagination room to soar around the details. Well done!

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  69. Great suggestions, Nancy! I have reached out a couple of times to family members for different books. It's always been a different challenge, but yes, so worth it!

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    1. I'm so glad it was helpful to you, Jilanne! I hear you about how reaching out to family members can be a challenge. It hasn't always worked out for me, honestly -- every once in a while you find a family member that is resistant for whatever reason. That's okay with me. It's their story and I have so many to tell. But I find the vast majority are happy to share their stories. They are related to someone who has done something amazing which has not gotten the recognition it should. And there you are, stepping in, appreciating the great thing this person has done and wanting to share it with kids all over the world. Usually I find people are happy and want to do everything they can to help you get it right. Wishing you happy travels in your book journey. May you find friendly faces and many treasures!

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  70. Nancy, information collected from family sources has a way of truly adding the most interesting details.

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    1. Thanks, Michelle, I have found that to be true! Plus, you meet lovely people that way. Wishing you a wonderful book journey, hoping you find many treasures!

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  71. Thank you Nancy - loved the candy bribe detail : )

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    1. Thanks, Ellen. I loved the candy bribe, too, as you can tell. :) I was thrilled with what the illustrator, Felicia Marshall, did with that, just ever so quietly showing Laura's little brother sucking on that candy. That's the other thing about finding cool details. A great illustrator will make something extra magical out of it. Wishing you all good things on your book journey. May you find many treasures!

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  72. I look forward to this activity you suggested!

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    1. I'm so glad, Trine. I hope you have fun with it! Often, in picture books, there isn't room or space for so many details about family members, but I find the exercise helpful to better understand my subject and his or her place in the family (as well as identifying sources for interview). Hold onto that tree, too, as it may prove a helpful in a teacher guide or a presentation as you talk with kids about how you created your work. Wishing you a happy book journey. May you find many treasures!

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  73. Oh my! I've already approached two family members for details about the subjects of the memoirs I will be working on; and, will be calling my precious aunt soon to discuss a childhood memory that needs to be understood by me. Thanks for the post!

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