Have you read These is My Words – The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine 1881-1901 by Nancy E. Turner yet? I featured the novel based on the author’s own family stories as a book club selection in July of 2017. Because I’m fascinated with the writing of family history, I contacted Nancy to get her perspective on the world of genealogy and family history. She graciously agreed to answer my questions and share her thoughts.
If you haven’t read These is My Words, this work of historical fiction tells the story of Nancy E. Turner’s great grandmother, Sarah Agnes Prine. The novel takes us into the rough and tumble world of the Arizona Territories, circa 1880-1890. Sarah faces typical pioneer tragedies of death and loss with non-typical spunk and courage. Her desire to educate herself is endearing and as a reader, we cheer her on through each challenge she faces.
Nancy generously shared some of her family photos of the Prine family to give us a window into the life of the real Sarah Agnes Prine.
Interview with Nancy E. Prine
Tell us about yourself.
I grew up in Phoenix, Arizona and Garden Grove, California. I was second of four girls, and went to a school for gifted children in Southern California. I have always loved dogs and horses, always enjoyed cooking and baking, and always had terrible allergies.
How did you get started in family history? Do you remember an initial “spark” or incident that inspired you? Did you have any experiences as a child/teen in school or at home that helped you be more inclined toward family history?
My interest was based solely on not knowing anything about our family other than the names of four grandparents. I even have aunts and uncles and cousins that to this day I’ve never met. It was my dad who, when he retired, decided to pursue the family tree. I’d say the experiences I had as a child that made me want this connection were mainly not having one. I knew kids at school who were always going to their cousins’ parties, or who had older brothers or sisters at the same school, and I never did. I just so longed for family connection because it didn’t exist.
What personality traits, hobbies, or professional pursuits have helped you in your genealogy research?
As I mentioned, it was my dad who did most of it. He worked tirelessly and meticulously on every channel available. At that time the best resource was the LDS library in Salt Lake City, and they spent a couple of weeks there doing research with an assistant. Now everything is online, and he has used those programs to fill in some missing blanks.
Why do you do genealogy? Why do you think it’s important?
It was important to me to clear up some of the tall tales from our family line. Everyone passed around the story that one grandmother was Native American – she wasn’t. Another story was that some French fur trapper from the Northwest Territory married an Iroquois girl – well the Iroquois were not in the Northwest, and no, he wasn’t a trapper, the French immigrant was a soldier in the French and Indian war, who stayed behind and married a Scottish immigrant’s daughter.
I think it is important especially for Americans because our backgrounds are so diverse that many of us grow up not having a culture. Am I Armenian or Irish? Are my roots Scandinavian or Polish? I think that especially feeling so isolated from family as a child, I felt isolated from any kind of nationality or ethnicity. I was just a kid in California and had no roots. I believe people enjoy knowing their backgrounds so they can claim an identity that is more than “Heinz 57.” People now a days even get genetic testing for their dog, so they know it’s part Basset Hound and part Poodle. I wanted to know – needed to know – that we are Scots-Irish, French, and Welsh.
What is the most rewarding part of researching your family’s history?
I do love finding connections, and placing people geographically. Turns out I’m descended from an English Earl, Second of Derwentwater, who was drawn and quartered for taking part in the Jacobite Rebellion. Our family lands were taken by the Crown. Just think, I might have lived like Downton Abbey! Does it get me anything? No, just a good story. What that gives me, though, is a way to understand who those people were, and when they fled England and came to this country, why so many of them were devoutly religious.
Some of my dad’s ancestors came to this country in chains for the crime of being Quakers. Imagine! My husband’s family were Scottish, too, and after the Jacobite Rebellion many of the Highland Scots came here and settled in Kentucky where his branch of Turners still live. I found out that his clan is Lamont (pronounced LAMB-ont) and they are from Loch Lomond area, and were primarily woodworkers. Hence the name change to Turner referred to turning wood on a lathe for spokes or balusters.
What has been the most difficult part of your genealogical journey?
The biggest difficulty has been that some relatives either refuse to believe what’s been found or have data they won’t share because it doesn’t hold with their storyline. Oh, well. We’ve managed to fill in blanks without them.
What are your research interests?
American History, including sociological aspects like acceptable behaviors for courting couples.
How do you preserve your family history?
I have a written family tree in a file on paper, and some computer files. My dad has most of the stuff.
What is your favorite way to share genealogy and family history with others?
We mostly just sit and try to get the stories correct. It’s so easy to get things mixed up, especially with some folks who are aging.
If you had all the time in the world to spend on family history, what would you do?
Not sure. I write historical fiction and I’m working on a new novel at the moment. I spend a great deal of time in front of a computer as it is. If I could trace people back across the Atlantic to the British Isles, I’d like to do that, but most of the time you need to know church affiliations and parish names, etc., and none of our searches has brought up any real information.
What’s the best discovery you’ve made about your family?
That my family has been on this continent since the early 1700s and has fought on both sides in the Revolutionary War as well as the Civil War.
Nancy continues the saga of Sarah Agnes Prine in two other novels: Sarah’s Quilt and The Star Garden. Her website gives information on her books, events, and more. Her newest novel is titled, My Name is Resolute. Set in the 1700’s, this book follows the story of Resolute Talbot, a young girl sold into indentured slavery and taken to the American Colonies. Through the eyes of Resolute, the era of the American Revolution comes to life. The book trailer promises another engaging and thought provoking historical novel.
Thanks, Nancy for sharing your insights into genealogy and family history!