The Compulsive Reader: September Book of the Month: The Scarborough Family Tree

Thursday, September 11, 2008

September Book of the Month: The Scarborough Family Tree

In Impossible, the protaganist, Lucy, carries a curse that reaches back many generation--all the wayback to the 17th century. As an added bonus, Nancy Werlin created a family tree so we could get to know the Scarborough girls a little better.

(Note: The family tree does not contain any spoilers!)

The Scarborough Girls
A Family Tree
By Nancy Werlin

Fenella, b. 1610 in Wexford, Ireland. Her family (headed by her merchant father) moved to Scarborough in England when she was four. At this time, the famous Scarborough Fair was in abeyance. At seventeen, Fenella, who was pretty and clever, already had a lover (her intended husband, Robert Ennis). But she caught the eye of The Elfin Knight, who attempted to court her. Fenella’s attempt to elude the Knight caused him to curse her and her daughters, creating a curse-variant of an old ballad that Fenella knew.

Bronagh, b. 1628. Her father, Robert Ennis, died four days before he was to marry her mother, Fenella, and Fenella herself disappeared shortly after Bronagh’s birth. Bronagh was raised by Robert’s sister, Agnes. She was a dark-haired girl of quiet temperament, much loved by her aunt.

Elizabeth, b. 1646. Also raised by her great-aunt Agnes, Elizabeth resembled her grandmother in her lively wits and clever tongue. However, the misfortunes of both her mother and grandmother had already caused talk and superstition, and she was isolated in childhood. Her pregnancy (by a married man who denied all responsibility) was a scandal. When Elizabeth disappeared in her turn following the birth of her daughter, Agnes died and the baby was fostered away.

Marjory, b. 1664. Marjory ran away to London at the age of twelve. No other information is available.

Barbara, b. 1682. No other information is available.

Dorothea, b. 1700. At the age of 14, intelligent Dorothea indentured herself as a servant for seven years and was sent to Virginia in the New World, where she worked for the family of Kenneth Lee in Westmoreland County.

Bridget, b. 1718. Bridget was brought up by the Thomas Lee family (Thomas was the son of Kenneth Lee) after the disappearance of her mother. Raised as a companion to a daughter of the house, Bridget was treated well until at seventeen she became pregnant and accused a neighbor of having raped her. She was disbelieved, called “a harlot like her mother,” and ran away to Philadelphia.

Pamela, b. 1737. Born in Philadelphia, Pamela was a devout member of the Quaker community. She said not a word to anyone about her pregnancy, behaving as if it were not occurring and remaining completely unresponsive to enquiries about it. Many thought her mad before she actually became so.

Katherine, called Kate, b. 1755. Beautiful Kate married a British lieutenant at fifteen, against the advice of the Quaker community to which she belonged after her mother’s disappearance. Her husband was a younger son of a noble family and repudiated his pretty American wife when he returned home, claiming that he was not the father of the child she was bearing. Kate returned to her original surname, and to her Quaker family and faith. Her obsession with spinning cloth during her pregnancy was accepted by her community as both harmless and useful.

Harriet, b. 1773. Red-headed, hot-tempered Harriet was considered to be trouble from the day of her birth, even before her mother Kate disappeared. At sixteen, Harriet stole money from her adoptive parents and took a ship for London, leaving a letter behind that said she was going to find her noble father in England and lead a life of wealth and leisure.
Marianna, b. 1791. No other information is available.

Julia, b. 1809. Julia grew up as a street child, scavenging for scraps in London. No other information is available.

Anne, b. 1827. Anne also grew up parentless on the streets of London but shows up in records in Dublin during the potato famine. How and why she ended up in Ireland is unclear, but she apparently believed she had an Irish father. In 1844, she crowded onto a ship for America, arriving in Boston only to find high anti-Irish sentiments, including riots. She disappeared during one such riot, a church burning, after her daughter was born.

Moira, b. 1845. Moira was raised in a Catholic charity orphanage in Boston and employed as a maidservant at thirteen. She left her employment as the Civil War broke out. No further information is available.

Minnie, b. 1863. Ambitious Minnie at seventeen was accepted into the nurses’ training program at the New England Hospital for Women and Children in Boston, which had begun educating female nurses in the year of her birth. Her pregnancy forced her to leave the program and she disappeared.

Jennie, b. 1881. No other information is available.

Mary, b. 1899. A pregnant Mary arrived in Peterborough, New Hampshire, masquerading as a war widow and looking for work. She was taken in by a young, well-to-do farmer’s wife who was at a similar stage of pregnancy and who subsequently raised Mary’s daughter.

Ruth, b. 1917. Ruth attended high school in Peterborough, New Hampshire, where she was a member of the girls’ choir and was also a home-room representative and a homecoming princess. What happened to her after the birth of her daughter is unknown.

Joanne, b. 1935. Joanne also attended high school in Peterborough, New Hampshire. She belonged to no clubs or groups at school at all, and was failing most of her classes when she dropped out of school due to her pregnancy. She was sent to a maternity home for teenage girls in Lowell, Massachusetts, from which she tried twice to run away, claiming that she needed to be nearer to the ocean.

Deirdre, b. 1954. Raised in a home for motherless girls, at fifteen, Deirdre ran away with three other girls to attend a concert in Woodstock, NY, and was next seen in Berkeley, California. Why she returned to her birthplace of Lowell for the birth of her daughter is a mystery.

Miranda, b. 1972. Miranda’s story is recounted in the book Impossible.

Lucinda, called Lucy, b. 1990. Lucy’s story is fully recounted in the book Impossible.

Four Questions with Nancy Werlin, Part II

What sort of research went into creating the Scarborough family tree?

Heavens, that was a fun project! I created the family tree after the novel was finished. It was my idea to do this, when Penguin asked me if I could think of any "extras" for the novel that they could put on a promotional DVD and website.

I knew, at the start of the work, that the first Scarborough woman was named Fenella, but I had no dates for her life, nor did I know more than the bare fact that she'd rejected the Elfin Knight, which started all the trouble. Also, I knew the names of Lucy's mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother.

But the terms of the Scarborough Family Curse made it easy to get to work. I went back 18 years for each generation, picked an appropriate name for the times, and then did a little thinking and research into what was happening in the world during that ancestress's lifetime, so that I could make each Scarborough Girl a woman of her age.

It's important to note that in real life, the kind of genealogical details present in my family tree would be impossible to locate via research. But as this is fiction, I tried to come up with a realistic nugget for most of the Scarborough Girls, so that we could get a sense of how each one had struggled in her turn.

Check back next week for more on the music that inspired Impossible!

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