Writing has always been part of my life. From the time I discovered, at about age eight, that I could make up stories, I was hooked. I kept a diary when I was young, finally destroying it when I had grown up enough to view my adolescent entries as embarrassing.
I took English when I went to university because I wanted to learn more about the craft of writing, about how real authors went about putting their ideas together to make stories, about how they viewed language, about the power of writing to act on the imagination.
I was fortunate enough to be part of a creative writing course offered by Marian Engel when she was the writer-in-residence in the late 1970s. As part of the requirements for that class, I composed a short story that was broadcast on CBC Radio’s Alberta Anthology in November of 1979. When my daughters were young, I wrote about parenting. Two of my articles were published in a monthly western Canadian magazine.
Then, I went back to work full time and I put aside all thoughts of personal writing for the 30 years that I was a teacher and teacher-librarian. My love of writing continued, though. I turned my attention to teaching children from kindergarten to grade nine how to do research – how to find information on topics, how to take notes and how to craft their own reports. I taught students how to write topic sentences and how to expand their ideas into paragraphs and essays. With Duncan Anderson, a fellow teacher-librarian in Red Deer, I worked on Focus on Research, a monograph for Alberta Education on the research process. In my years teaching high school, I worked with young adults to hone their skills in written expression.
I retired from teaching in 2002 and turned back to personal writing. Since that time, I’ve had the opportunity to work on several major projects. My first full-length book was On His Own Two Feet: The Life of Harold Granger. Over about three years, I interviewed Harold and his wife, Audrey, and wrote his story. I published it in 2009.
The following year, I undertook a book contract to research public health nurses who worked in First Nations and Inuit communities that were part of the Chinook region of western Canada in the early 20th Century. I completed that research and submitted it in March of 2010.
My next writing project brought another of my interests into play. I have always been interested in family history. In the 1970s, I began to collect family stories by listening to my dad talk about the ‘old days’ and by talking to relatives about what life was like when they were young.
I began to collect the details of births, marriages and deaths on a software program, beginning with entering the information collected by Geraldine Verbeek Benson on the Cust family in the early 1980s and updated yearly for about ten years. I also began to explore the history of the Cust family, researching our connections to Ireland and the Pollard connection to England. Travelling to Ireland and England in 2011 with my daughter, Bernadette, added solid experience to my interest in my ancestors.
Family history became more important to me when my older daughter married and was expecting her first child. Since we have Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) in our family, I wanted to find out if my daughters were carriers of the RP gene. In the process of exploring the answers to that question, I found out about a British study that was looking at all of the identified RP families in the UK. If we could establish our connection to one of those families, it would help identify the particular strain of the genetic disease, and could help in determining who in the family might be carriers of the RP gene. My interest in family history was stimulated once again.
I connected with others who were studying the Cust and Pollard backgrounds. Janelle Cust from New South Wales, Australia wrote Early Ancestors of the Cust Family in England and Ireland, in which she traced her own Cust family roots back to the early 1500s. Scott Johnson shared research he did into the Cust and Pollard families back four or five generations into County Derry, Ireland and Bath, England, respectively.
When the idea of a Cust family reunion came up early in 2012, I was happy to be able to use the connections made with family members who were coming to the reunion as a way to encourage them to add their family information and their own family stories and photos to a writing project that would incorporate the work of Geraldine Verbeek Benson into a Cust family history book.
The Cust family history book, titled From Irish Roots…The Descendants of James Cust and Rose Allen Cust, has been published and more than 200 copies have been distributed. I am very grateful to family members for their support of the project with their contributions of family histories, photos and genealogy, and the vote of confidence signified by their prepaid purchase of copies of the 264-page book.
That leaves me free to move on to other writing projects…