about the author, james lacey
I was raised in Newark, New Jersey during the great depression of the 1930s. My family consisted of my parents and two siblings as well as many aunts, uncles, and cousins. I knew and loved my maternal grandparents, but my father's mother died when I was less than two years old. Since my paternal grandfather died when my father was about two years old, I never knew my father's parents. What little I did know about them was whatever was told by my father, his two brothers and a sister. Still I would, from time to time, ask about their parents. Invariably, whenever I asked about my paternal grandfather, I received only a quick reply that he had been killed in a coal mining accident in New Castle, Pennsylvania. Then the subject always shifted to my paternal grandmother, whom my father and his siblings adored to the point of apotheosis.
The family history: a hobby
When I retired in 1990 at the age of sixty-three, I purchased a computer and began to use it for normal everyday reasons, like e-mail, Internet, financial management, etc. In 1995, through a very good friend, I became interested in genealogy and thought it would be a good hobby. I was fortunate enough to have had an aunt, my mother's sister who had, over the years, become the family historian. When she passed away I inherited all of her records and using a computer program I learned how to fill in a lot of details even she did not have. Again her records for the most part, were only of my mother's family. Knowledge of my father's family was almost non-existent and by this time my father and his siblings had all passed away so there was no personal source of his family history available to me save what my mother knew, which was woefully little.
I began to think back to my formative years, trying to recall conversations I had with my father regarding his family and I realized how little he told me. Was his avoidance deliberate? Was something 'wrong' in the family? These ideas began to germinate in my mind. I also realized that I had been remiss in not having had more interest in these matters much earlier in my life. It was a mistake of omission, which I now regret. And what a mistake it was, because now that I was interested, there was no one to turn to except my mother.
So, starting from scratch, I began to trace my father's family history hoping to construct a simple family tree. I started not surprisingly, at the public library. It was there that I discovered a set of volumes listing the ship passenger manifests of all emigrants from Italy from 1800 to 1900. I looked up my father's surname but could only find his older brother, immigrating into the United States in 1894, just before his fourth birthday. It appeared that he was traveling alone because no one else on the ship had the same surname as his. I found it difficult to accept that a four year old was traveling alone from Naples to New York City in 1894. Then I noticed my grandmother's maiden name on the same manifest. My grandmother and uncle were on the same ship alone; there was no husband and she was registered under her maiden name.
What a find! That was it! Grandma was not married! At last I had found out the family's dark secret. Now I knew why my father and his siblings never talked about grandpa. I would later discover that on official documents it was the Italian custom to list a married woman by her maiden name, which, for the genealogist is a very helpful custom indeed. However, armed with this newly discovered 'skeleton' in the family's closet, I went to my mother and confronted her with my 'discovery'. At the time my mother was a very young ninety years old and she knew I was working on the family tree. How she must have fretted over the possibility that I would uncover the truth. I am sorry for that.
the truth is revealed!
The next time we spoke I got straight to the point. "They were not married," I exclaimed. I'll never forget the look on her face.
"Who told you!" she said to me with a look of shock and horror. I knew I had opened a Pandora's Box, but to my surprise, it was not the one I thought. Thinking she would tell me the truth about grandma and grandpa not being married, I pleaded with her to tell me the full story. Reluctantly, she agreed. I expected one story but she told me another, and because of this misunderstanding between us the hidden truth started to unravel. I had literally stumbled onto the 'secret' and what a secret it was. I was stunned and incredulous. An insatiable desire for the details took hold of me and I became obsessed with the need to know more.
I started my search through the official documents available to me, and later on with people I located who knew part of the story, but this was only second hand and in some cases third hand information. As I plodded along, very slowly, a story began to unfold as I gathered data from many sources, even from as far away as Italy. It was a story that rivaled any Hollywood movie ever made. There was tragedy, romance, murder, illicit love, adventure, and another here-to-fore unknown family, all documented by a paper trail that required detective work of the first order.
I began to compile the data in a chronological journal that I distributed to my cousins, all of whom were unaware of the surprising history. Some were upset but most accepted it and some were even grateful as they too had doubts regarding the 'official' family story. The history was so complex and intriguing that a desire to write a novel about it started to grow although I feared that anyone reading it might find it contrived and unbelievable. After all, it was the America at the turn of the century and we were still living with Victorian values, or so at least it seemed.
the hobby turned obsession
Mostly, the idea of writing the family history grew because I was trying to understand the personalities involved. I daydreamed about their relationships, their motivations, and their conversations. I knew facts, but that was not enough. I wanted to understand their personalities, to know the circumstances that were to change their lives; a paper trail of seemingly impersonal data that was hard to believe, yet undeniable. Who were these people? What were their emotions, fears, and anxieties? People are not marionettes responding to the pull of strings manipulated by some unseen force. They act because of reasons, good or bad, thought out or impetuous - they have choices. But unless a diary is kept, we can never know what they thought or what motivated their actions. In my obsessed desire to know what made them tick I began to fictionalize their lives based on the data I had uncovered and thus the book began to take shape.
It was obvious from the start that the emotions, fears, anxieties, and dreams of the central characters would have to be creations of my imagination. Not only that, but I also had to create some unknown characters and imagine some events which fit in with documentation in order to make the story hang together in a cohesive and chronological format. This historical novel is the result. Emotions, dialogue, and motivations, as well as many characters are figments of my unbridled imagination even though the central characters are actual historical entities and most of the events are true and follow an historical chronology that can be documented.
I experienced unexpected feelings of pleasure and a strong sense of accomplishment in the effort. It was hard work but it was a lot of fun and I am sorry it is over. I found that the detective work was exhilarating. Including the research, the project has taken over eight years to complete. I hope that you the reader will take some enjoyment in a story in which fact and fiction are interwoven in history.