Betty Bellous is the author of Birds of Passage: Cornishmen in Michigan's Upper Peninsula Keweenaw County. This is an interview with her by Carol Smallwood. To read a review of the book, please click HERE.
How did you come to write this book about the copper miners who came from Cornwall, England?
I came upon the poem "Sad Day in Central Mine" about the 1872 mining disaster, an anonymous poem, which appeared in a Cornish newspaper in 1872. It made me wonder about who these Cornishmen were and about their families here and abroad. I began my research with the intention of writing a short article for publication. In the process, I found a manuscript about 50 + Cornishmen who sent money to their families in Cornwall in 1872. That led me to the beginnings of this book. Researching families caused me to use many sources and led me to the topics included in the book.
How did you get so skilled in research and genealogy?
My sister had been involved with a huge research project on my mother's family, Nicholas Schneider, and invited me to tag along on her research trips to Ohio, Indiana, Utah and Pennsylvania. These trips led to State libraries, court houses, archives and cemeteries where I learned the ropes in research and documentation. That accomplished, she blessed me with the task of researching our Dad's Polish family! Taking two classes in beginning Polish language and armed with the names and places of my grandparents in Poland, I began my own research project. Eventually I opened a small family research business in Marquette, MI during which I taught others to research and also did research for others. It was there that I developed a keen interest in ethnic research: Finnish, Swedish, and Native American.
Where did you find your information for the book and how long did it take you to write it?
The poem and a newspaper article about the 1872 mining disaster provided the names of 13 men. A manuscript of 50+ Cornishmen who sent money back to families in Cornwall provided more names to work with.
The Cornish Counties have a website staffed with volunteers, the Federal Census, Naturalization records, County records, libraries, cemeteries and of course Ancestry.com provided the data I needed. It took 18 months of constant on-line work plus two months of editing, reviewing and correcting before the book was ready for printing.
What are some of the most interesting or unexpected details you found?
An awareness of how these men toiled under the earth, in dangerous conditions, and struggled to keep going. The strong bond of comradery that tied the Cornishmen together with their love of music. They sang for all occasions, including at the cemetery where they honored friends and family.
I was surprised that the small area surrounding Keweenaw Peninsula has two very active Cornish societies and one busy Genealogy Society: Keweenaw Kernewek in Eagle Harbor; Copper Country Cornish Cousins in Calumet; and the Houghton-Keweenaw Genealogical Society. The Keweenaw folks hold a reunion every summer on the last Saturday in July which includes a church service in the Methodist Church and a Cornish Tea in the afternoon. People come from far and wide, mostly descendants of copper miners. The 14th Gathering of Cornish Cousins hosted 20+ speakers over a 5-day period. Topics included such diverse subjects as Cornish language & dialect, Cornish fiber production and hand spinning, the Ross Genealogical Collection, Cornish cookery, country dancing, the Bal Maidens (women and girls who worked in the Cornish mines) and several presentations of family histories. The spirit of the Cornish community is amazing. Also, finding the On Line Parish Clerks Network available and staffed with volunteers who are very ready to help one in searching Cornish county records is a pleasant surprise. The Michigan Tech University Archives has an overwhelming abundance of manuscripts, books and helpful staff. Lastly, there are several Cornish Societies across the US, several of which have facebook sites. Just search the word Cornish and you will find a few.
Self publishing is becoming more and more popular. What advice could you give others considering self publishing?
Of first importance is to consider which software program you will use for storing your material. There are a few book publishing programs available but one needs to do an in depth look at what they do and in what is involved in assembling a book. I preferred to use Microsoft Word because I didn't want to learn a new system. Professional print shops prefer you provide a finished manuscript on a smart stick with the material in PDF format. That means in essence the book is all one long stream of data instead of separate chapters assembled in separate files. That one factor made my book more difficult to work with collating and printing. It was an accumulation of several different chapters which I printed manually on my own printer, assembled in the sequence I wanted and learned how to add pages numbers. One of the most time consuming tasks was creating the every name index. For that I used Microsoft Excel. Once the book was assembled, I had to find a printer who would handle the actual publishing, including binding. Professional printers will not handle small print jobs so one uses services available at places like Staples, Office Max or a local print shop. One area I did not consider is that in computing the cost of the print job, the charge for each colored picture is four times greater than the black and white pages.
Carol Smallwood received a MLS from Western Michigan University, MA in History from Eastern Michigan University. Bringing the Arts into the Library by the American Library Association is among over four dozen books for librarians and writers.
Birds of Passage: Cornishmen in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula Keweenaw County
Nonfiction; 2016 Soft cover; 112 pages; 8 1/2 x 11
table of contents; color and b/w photographs; map; sketches; index
Published by Betty Bellous, 6102 Jefferson, #1418, Midland MI 48640
$30 per copy includes U.S. shipping email@example.com
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As you might have heard, we're hosting a fundraiser at GLCL on Friday, September 16, at 6:30pm. It's a Books & (Root)Beers event, and features root beer from Schmohz Brewery, snacks from The Winchester and Donkey Taqueria, and four incredible authors: Bonnie Jo Campbell, Caitlin Horrocks, Todd Kaneko, and Adam Schuitema. This is a Don't Miss It kind of evening, friends.
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What compels you to write? What brings about good literature? For Andy Mozina it seems the act of writing, literature as a whole, is where meaning making is most present and realized, and for Jaimy Gordon the challenge of wondering if she still "has it," referring to an experience, memories of a certain time and place, are impulses to write, to keep writing -- to capture a moment, a series of moments, and to recapture and explore emotional and intellectual truths about how we live in the world. It was insightful and motivating to hear Jaimy talk about how important just hearing people speak can be and is, particularly the voice of Medicine Ed in her award-winning novel Lord of Misrule, and her telling us during the Writers Squared conversation just how meaningful it was for her to call up and go visit the old southern groomers of her past so as to sit with and hear their voices, writing down everything they said, and how doing so helped shaped the aforementioned novel. Andy Mozina's recent (and sweeping) novel Contrary Motion was approached differently, but with as much passion. Andy informed us the beginning moment, the conception of the impulse to write the story, was when he received an old time photograph from his mother-in-law of a woman playing the harp bedside to a hospice patient. From then on, the image engrained in his mind, he wrote sections of the novel and put it together, "braided it," into a book of great range and yet quiet, very modest and nervous at times. A tremendous thanks to both authors for visiting the Writers' Hub and to those of you ongoing supporters of GLCL, it's so crucial having an audience. Keep listening, read on, and come back for our next event. So long.
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