In 2006 I published my last novel of the that decade. Nowhere is a Place was a homage to my family history. I used the names of my ancestors for many of the characters in that book. Nowhere is a Place went on to be nominated for a Pulitzer and was chosen by The Washington Post as one of the best novels of 2006.
I've always thought of Nowhere is a Place as my version of Alex Haley's, "Roots" and so you could imagine how disappointed I was when the publisher printed up one edition, decided not to reissue it in paperback and then put it out of print.
But as I am learning, sometimes hindrances and disappointments can be stepping stones and opportunities.
In the next few months Nowhere is a Place will once again be made available to the reading public, thanks to the ebook phenomena.
But I have digressed from the main focus of this post.
At the end of the book there is a page entitled: Are we related?
On that page I listed a number of my ancestors that I am still seeking information on. The one family member that I've been especially curious about is my great-grandmother Chappo. Chappo has been so elusive that sometimes my frustration with her has brought me to tears.
Ever since I discovered her, I've felt a connection and have even begun to think of her as my guardian angel and my muse. In fact I give her life yet again as the owner of the boarding house in my new novel Glorious.
Up until last week I had only four documents that proved she even existed.
Then last week I received the following email and a million doors opened:
Hi! My name is Valerie Beaudrault. I just finished reading 'Nowhere is a Place.' It was such a moving family story. Then I read "Are we related?", which led me to your blog, which I read with great interest.
When anyone poses a family history mystery and I hear it or read about it and can't seem to help myself - I have to see what I can find out.
Wednesday evening I started looking and after about 4 hours I found
Chappo Robinson McFadden's marriage to Samuel Elliott. They married in Grand Rapids, Michigan on May 9, 1922 (record # 15159). I have attached
a jpeg of the record to this email.
The really exciting thing is that Chappo's parents are listed in this record - Rev. T. M. Robinson and Louise White. It looks as though Chappo listed 'musician' as her occupation. Is this how she got to Michigan? Samuel Elliot is a music teacher.
I found this record in the Michigan Marriages 1868 - 1925 database in the Pilot Search records section of www.familysearch.org. I did a general search of all records for Chappo McFadden and this was the only record with her name found in all of the databases.
With the name of Chappo's father in hand I did a search of Georgia newspapers in a 19th century newspaper database. I found a Reverend T. M. Robinson, as minister of the Cotton Avenue Baptist Church in Macon Georgia, dying in December 1895. (The Macon Telegraph, Macon Georgia,
December 14, 1895; pg. 5; col A) The article title: Death of a Prominent
The First Baptist Church's website also talks about Reverend Robinson (http://www.firstbaptistmacon.org/index.cfm?PageID=3). He started preaching at the church in Macon in 1887, one or two years after Chappo's birth, as she reports, in Augusta. I cannot prove that this is Chappo's father, but it seems promising.
I was very excited about this discovery. I've done lots of research on my family, the families of friends, acquaintances, and strangers because I enjoy a good mystery. I hope this helps to open more doors into Chappo's origins and life.
Causes Bernice McFadden Supports
Hurston Wright Foundation
Girls Write Now
Girls Educational and Mentoring Services (GEMS)