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2 Oct
2018

A Book Tour in Nebraska

Sunrise in Thedford, Nebraska

Sunrise in Thedford, Nebraska (2018)

We are standing at the intersection of US 83 and Nebraska Highway 2 reading the highway sign about the Sand Hills outside Thedford, Nebraska when I see the Dollar General Store across the Highway. Then I remember what the volunteer at the Historical Museum said about the land my great grandparents homesteaded. We found the homestead on an old plat map with Irvin Russell’s name. She said it was at this intersection where the Dollar General Store was built!

This was just one of the highlights of my fabulous 10 days on a book tour in Nebraska…yes Nebraska!  Readers will know that a section of Sarah’s Secret takes place in Nebraska. And others will know that I was born in Nebraska and have many family roots there. I traveled with my spouse who served as my driver and my very able assistant. This trip was a great opportunity to tell my genealogy story Searching for Family Secrets and read from Sarah’s Secret.

The Back Story

In 2011 when I was searching for information about my mysterious paternal grandfather, we visited the Thomas County Historical Museum in Thedford. My great grandparents, Irvin and Lydia Dodd Russell homesteaded there. My grandmother, Ellen Russell married Harvey Depew Scott in Thedford in 1892. One of the museum volunteers, Helen White, was very helpful in my search. When my book came out, I sent her a copy to thank her. She encouraged me to come to Nebraska. This spring she connected me to Terry Licking, President of the Sandhills Journey Scenic Byway, who seems to know everyone across the state of Nebraska. Through Terry’s connections I was booked across the state into Historical Museums and Libraries to tell the genealogy story of Searching for Family Secrets and to read from Sarah’s Secret.

Scotts Bluff, Nebraska

Scotts Bluff, Nebraska

The Experience of Nebraska

I learned even more about Nebraska. The historic Oregon, California and Mormon Trails dug into the Nebraska sod across the state and are memorialized at the Scotts Bluff monument just outside the town of Scottsbluff where I was born. I learned at the Legacy of the Plains in Gering and the Knight Museum and Sandhills Center in Alliance about the challenges of the early pioneers trying to survive by farming and discovering the Sandhill grasslands were better suited to raising livestock.

We learned about the valuable water from the Ogallala Aquifer a vast underground reservoir which lies under almost all of Nebraska and parts of six other states. The survival of this valuable source of water is threatened, but Nebraska has put protections in place. We heard a story about Ted Turner and Jane Fonda blowing a multi-million dollar ranch sale because Jane preferred bottled water over the fresh water from the Ogallala Aquifer.

We had some great meals, often steak and chops. We found a gourmet restaurant in Scottsbluff that even carried California wines. The Emporium was so wonderful we had dinner there twice. In Broken Bow the restaurant at our hotel, the Arrowhead was excellent and my favorite meal was the walleye pike. We enjoyed fascinating discussions and a good meal at a gathering of neighbors when we visited friends in Lincoln.

Mullen Nebraska sign

Did you know that there is one of the 100 Best Golf Courses in the little town of Mullen? It is one of the most natural golf courses, ranked ninth in the best of the world.

In many of the places we visited, it was clear that those pioneers who settled Nebraska were mostly of white European descent. And because it is very white, we were conscious that it was much easier for us to travel across the state than if we were of color. But we were interested to learn about DeWitty, the largest and longest-lasting African American settlement in rural Nebraska. The settlers many from Canada were lured by the opportunity for free land after the Kincaid Act was passed in 1904 offering homesteaders 640 acres instead of the 160 acres of the first Homestead Act in 1864. The town was settled in 1907 and grew to 82 residents in 1910. The last resident left the area in 1936. The history of DeWitty reports that white and black settlers in the area treated each other as neighbors, helping out in times of need.

Custer County Museum, Nebraska

Custer County Museum exhibit

Genealogy and Book Readings

I met wonderful people some whom have moved into town, others who still ranch and raise cattle. The audiences in my sessions included people interested in genealogy who have intriguing and mysterious stories in their families, too. They asked many questions about the facts I uncovered about my grandfather and the missing information I was not able to find. They were interested in how I turned my family story into fiction. Others liked to read historical fiction and were intrigued by the story I had created. And they left the sessions with a book under their arm!

I took advantage of my visits and conducted more genealogy research, looking for additional information about family members who settled in the Thedford area. I not only found the plat map to identify the family homestead but I also found a copy of my great grandfather’s will from the County Court House. My maternal great grandparents also homesteaded in Nebraska near Broken Bow. Although I had visited before, I spent time looking for more information at the Custer County Historical Museum, too. I followed up on suspected related families and found the will of my great, great grandmother in the Custer County Court House.

Sunflowers, Nebraska

Back Home

I returned to San Francisco appreciating our natural air conditioning; In Nebraska, it was 85 to 95 degrees most days of our trip. Driving west to east and back, I appreciate the rolling hills, the green prairies and the flashy yellow sunflowers. Nebraska isn’t dramatic but it is a very pretty state. I am proud to claim it as my birthplace. I plan to go back to visit again.

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