Imagine a woman erased from her family’s history. Imagine her being buried in a small town cemetery with no identifying markers on her gravestone, other than she was somebody’s wife. What’s more, her name is misspelled. It’s hard to imagine what kind of sin such a woman might have committed to be reduced to so little after death.
Who was she? What was her sin?
Nannie B. Russell is her name, and her sin was to have died in childbirth in 1905; her daughter lived. This little girl carried the mysterious absence of her mother all her life. Her father and stepmother never spoke of her birth mother. There were no pictures. No mementos. Just a grievous emptiness.
That child grew up to be Nancy Owen Nelson’s mother. Searching for Nannie B. details her search for scraps of history, stories, dates, photos, anything, about her forgotten grandmother.
How do our lost ancestors touch us?
Do they inform our consciousness? This thought haunted Nancy.
Much of the book deals with the way Nancy’s quest informs her own life. What she eventually discovers, and the peace she finds within, is well worth her efforts. I found her determination and vigilance to be amazing. Twice I cried while reading as I experienced Nancy’s anticipation and her joy of discovery as if it were my own.
It saddens me that women who died in childbirth at the turn of the century were often brushed aside or their lives were marginalized. My grandmother’s mother died in labor; little is known about her. Of course, no one believed in talk therapy then and people didn’t speak of unpleasantnest lest it lead to a show of emotion.
Nancy’s mother, and, in turn, Nancy, were deeply affected by being denied Nannie B.’s history. Ultimately, the truths and stories Nancy has uncovered have given her a sense of completeness that has left me wanting to research my great grandmother’s life.
Searching for Nannie B., Connecting Three Generations of Southern Women is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle. ISBN-13: 978-1938667374. Published by Ardent Writer Press, LLC
Nancy Owen Nelson has published articles in several academic journals and anthologies, and she has co-edited several books. She earned her B.A. in French and English at Birmingham-Southern College and her M.A. and PhD in English at Auburn University. She teaches writing in several colleges, and a memoir workshop for Springfed Arts.
Linda K. Sienkiewicz is the author of In the Context of Love, adult contemporary fiction, a 2016 Eric Hoffer Book Award Finalist.
Angelica Schirrick had always suspected there was something deeply disturbing about her family, but the truth was more than she bargained for.