Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Those Unexpected Paths


Photo from Amazon.com

Occasionally, genealogy research leads us down unexpected paths. Consequently, when Ann Beattie was interviewed recently on NPR about her new book, Mrs. Nixon: A Novelist Imagines a Life, I took notice.  In the interview Ms Beattie explained the narrative style as interweaving fact with what she imagined might have happened.  “I imagine dialogue to which I had no access; I do my best to write as I think my characters would think and speak…”  Although genealogists are beginning to use this technique in writing up how they imagined their ancestors felt and/or dealt with daily life, using this technique for a book on Pat Nixon leaves me unsettled.

So why do I care? Because genealogy leads us down unexpected paths, and when I was researching John and Anna Colesie of Boston for a relative, I naturally followed the path of their only daughter, Helene.

Helene Colesie was born in Boston, Massachusetts on 27 Jan 1915 to John and Anna Colesie.  When the Colesie’s moved to California, Helene attended college and became a teacher as well as an outspoken community activist.  During this time, Helene and one of her teacher colleagues, Pat Nixon, became close friends.  After Helene married Jack Drown, the couples became a foursome.

Helene Colesie Drown and Pat Nixon remained the best of friends for the rest of their lives.  Jack Drown was appointed Nixon’s train campaign manager and become one of Nixon’s closest advisors.  Helene and Jack Drown were at the hospital when Tricia Nixon was born, as Pat’s husband Richard Nixon, was out on the campaign trail.  Helene remained Pat’s only trusted confidant.

This genealogy research gave me insight into a close, intimate and long lasting relationship I had not known existed.  It provided a peek into the life of Pat Nixon, her friendship with Helene Drown, and how much Mrs. Nixon guarded her privacy.

My genealogy research brought me up close and personal with these two women, and that is why I care.  

For a review of this book, check out Vinton McCabe's review at New York Journal of Books.

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