Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Origins of Ox Cart Angel

I’m a genealogy buff. I love searching through old censuses, looking up obituaries of long lost relatives, visiting graveyards. Might sound a little morbid, perhaps, but from those, I try to piece together what little I can of my ancestors lives. Most of it is conjecture. I don’t have a famous ancestor whose life was written about in magazines and biographies, and none that I know of kept a detailed journal that managed to survive from one generation to the next, so it’s very hard to know what their lives were really like.

A couple of my ancestors have been particularly elusive to me. I don’t really know their names, other than the last name of one may have been Fallman or Tallman, and he was a photographer who came down to the U.S. through French Canada. I also have an ancestor who was Ojibwa who lived in Pembina. About her, I really know nothing else, other than that she married another ancestor of mine who was a voyageur with the last name of Demarais (or something like that. It eventually was shortened to Demar.)

When reading about Pembina, trying to find out more about this Ojibwa woman, I learned about the Metis, and about the ox cart and Red River trails. It’s quite an important piece of history, and one that doesn’t get a whole lot written about it. That got my imagination working. What was it like to travel from Pembina to St. Paul back in the 1800’s? Had any of my ancestors made that journey? What if they had to make it alone? From that sprang Ox Cart Angel. Even though Fallman/Tallman the photographer never met or knew the Demarais ancestors, I combined them for the sake of the story.

And for some reason, while plotting the story, I kept envisioning the main character, Claire, in an oversized wedding dress that had belonged to her mother, and the people whom she crossed paths with oftentimes felt that she looked angelic dressed this way.

A lot of great material for stories can be found simply by looking back at our past, or the past of our ancestors, and the times and places they lived in.

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