Roseburg author Pat Speth Sherman has taken her family’s rather usual history and written an unusual book with broad appeal.

Kris Wiley

Kris Wiley

Kris Wiley

“American Tapestry: Portrait of a ‘Middling’ Family 1746-1934” contextualizes the experiences of some of Sherman’s forebears from Pennsylvania and New York with national events, including the Whiskey Rebellion and the Civil War.

She focuses on seven ancestors who created and sustained a family tradition of public service, and she holds them up as examples of how ordinary Americans rise to the challenges of their time.

Sherman will present “American Tapestry” during a livestream program Thursday, Jan. 6 at 6:30 p.m. on Roseburg Public Library’s Facebook page at facebook.com/roseburglibrary. She plans to share what the book is about, what inspired her to write it, why she thinks it is relevant, interesting and surprising things she discovered, and suggestions for researching family history.

A Facebook account is not required to watch Sherman’s presentation, and it will be recorded for later viewing.

Speaker questions may be submitted before the event to Lydia Rathe at lrathe@cityofroseburg.org or 541-492-7052. Alternately, viewers who have a Facebook account may post questions during the event.

Sherman has her own remarkable history. She has worked as a nurse, an accountant and a seed business owner. She served as mayor of Brookings, Oregon. She is an avid gardener and an All-America swimmer. And she is a volunteer at Roseburg Public Library.

I caught up with Sherman by email to learn more about her work on “American Tapestry.” The conversation has been edited for length.

Question: I was struck immediately that this book took you many years to write. Some of the email correspondence recorded in the footnotes is more than 10 years old. At what point did you decide to create a book from your research, and how long did “American Tapestry” take to write?

Answer: I had started way back in 2007 or so to do a little family history project for the benefit of my son and nieces and nephews. I was never interested in compiling a list of names. I wanted to do my best to bring these people to life. In order to do that I had to understand the times and places that they lived, which in turn compelled me to do a lot of background research.

In 2010 at Christmastime, I sent my family a little booklet — my first pass at what at the time was chapters one to three.

Not being a historian, I realized I was in over my head and began reaching out to historians, seeking a mentor who might help me with fact checking and with perspective. Colin Calloway, Professor of History at Dartmouth, referred me to Matthew Dennis at [the University of Oregon]. Matt agreed to take me on. That was in 2011.

In 2012 I sent the second installment, chapters four to six, to my family. It was about this time that I thought that the story of my family was unique in that the family members had been LOCAL community leaders for such a long sweep of time. Further, I couldn’t find any books about a family like that. So it was about this time that I decided my project would be a book intended for the general public.

In 2015 I sent chapters seven to nine; and maybe it was 2016 that I sent chapters 10 to 17. Then I quit sending booklets. By then I knew it would be a book.

I finished the mostly final edit in 2020. So... about 13 years.

Q: You take an interesting approach in describing the lives of some of your ancestors. Because their historical records sometimes are spotty, you use others’ research to create a picture of a typical person living at that time. How did you decide which resources to use?

A: Each chapter stands on its own. How I decided what research to use depended on the question I was trying to answer at the time.

First, understand that I thrive on complexity; the more complicated the puzzle is, the better I like it. An easy example of research technique is how I recreated the Lykens Valley as it appeared in 1765.

I visited the place. I found old survey maps that included trees as property boundaries. I mapped those trees on a current topo[graphic] map. So I knew what species were there.

Then I used Donald Peattie’s glorious book “A Natural History of Trees of Eastern and Central North America” to get a feel for the individual tree species; Conrad Richter’s [The Awakening Land] trilogy (fiction) to get a feeling for what “taming” the wilderness was like; as well as [James Fenimore] Cooper’s Leatherstocking books; some antiquarian books on extinct species; and whatever else I could find.

There was no rigid method, nor could there be, because each topic had its own issues. Some were straightforward. Others took years.

Q: What advice do you have for those who want to tell their family’s story?

A: Follow the facts wherever they might lead. You may be surprised at what you find.

Be curious: If an incipient question is in the back of your mind, bring it to the forefront and pursue the answer.

Be honest even if what you find wrenches your gut.

Be brave: Don’t be afraid to ask questions to people you do not know. In my experience, professional historians are accommodating.

Be persistent and patient. You might not find the answer to a particular question for many years.

Think about who will be reading the story. Pretend you are that person.

Read your story aloud.

Use Google.

Use hathitrust.org. (This is an enormous digital library created by major universities, and it gets bigger every day.)

Read footnotes.

Most of all, have fun.

Kris Wiley is the director of the Roseburg Public Library. She can be reached at kwiley@cityofroseburg.org or 541-492-7051.

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