Writing Family Histories (a BlogTalkRadio Interview)

Back in 2012, Gail’s daughter, Virginia Allain, had the opportunity to go on BlogTalkRadio for an interview. The topic was Writing Family Histories.

It was a good opportunity to talk up Gail’s memoir, My Flint Hills Childhood.  You can hear the interview by clicking on the arrow below. It’s 13 minutes long, then they take a break for reading a poem, before getting back to the interview at the 16-minute point.


Unfortunately, due to a technical issue, the interview cut off the last 15 minutes. The host was quite apologetic, but at least it did get a little air time promoting the book.

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Virginia Allain, Gail and Clyde’s daughter.

Develop Your Own Personal Library

I’ve rescued another of Gail Lee Martin’s early articles that she wrote for the eHow site back in 2009.

How to Develop a Personal Library

Reading is an important part of our lives for information and entertainment. Filling our home with books that have special meaning to us seems so natural. Here’s how to develop your own personal library.

Our library of books that take up a whole wall in our home Is the result of a lifetime with my reading family. My parents and sisters read whenever we had some spare time. Then I married Clyde, who came from a big family of readers. Together we raised six children who mostly took to reading like ducks to water.

During more than fifty years of married life, we gathered and saved books like jewels. In the seventies, Clyde built an eight-foot long bookshelf almost ceiling high to hold the many books we thought too precious to get let go. We read them over and over again.


Paul Calhoun standing by the bookshelves his grandfather, Clyde Martin, made. 1973

Collecting books of our favorite authors made garage sales an enjoyable pastime. We watch for early Kansas school books and books written about Abraham Lincoln, Clyde’s favorite since his early years when Grandma Joy would read aloud to him from the well-used book, “Stories and Yarns of the Immortal Abe,” that is a highlight of our wall of books.

Library book sales are good places to find books at bargain prices. Also, check yard sales and flea markets. For hard-to-find books, check antique stores and online.

Authors we love and save their books to read time and time again are Harold Bell Wright, B. M. Bower, Jackson Gregory, James Oliver Curwood, William Allen White and Peter B. Kyne. My mother must have been reading Kyne’s book, “The Enchanted Hill” when she was expecting me in 1924, as she named me Gail Lee after the heroine, Gail and the hero, Lee. How could I not become a writer after that honor?

The collection of Margaret Hill McCarter books began with the book “The Price of the Prairie.” that my mother-in-law gave her husband in 1915. These books led me to research this author’s life and finally performing at elementary schools and clubs in my community as Margaret.  IMG_7188_edited

Our book collecting has outgrown our original wall of books, creating the need for bookshelves in the master bedroom, for mostly western, mysteries, intrigue, and historical paperbacks, again we save series of books by our favorites authors. Dick Francis, Jean Auel, Tony Hillerman, James Herriot, and Sandra Detrix of the Kansas Author Club writing as Cassandra Austin are just a few.

We have many books about Will Rogers, Charles Lindbergh, oil fields, old Model A cars, Norman Rockwell, Frankoma Pottery and Currier and Ives.
One long shelf contains books on gardening, fences, composting, flowers, insects, trees and some “Foxfire” books about the mountaineer people of the Appalachian Mountain. I have added books about learning to survive by eating from the wilds. Including many by Euell Gibbons. We take pleasure from hunting the countryside for wild foods like poke, morel mushrooms, and paw paws to bring home and savor a bit of nature’s bounty.

Two long shelves on the back porch are for the recipe books. These are used for new and old ideas for cooking meals from the produce we grow in our own garden each year. I also use them and the Kansas history books for my research for stories.

Book shelves are currently taking shape all around in my writing room to shelter books containing research for all kind of articles I plan on writing; for our family history memoirs and extensive files of everything our family is interested in. I have added notebooks where I save written material by others in our family. My Mother’s stories that she wrote in the early twenties, our daughter, Shannon’s “Martin News”; my sister, Carol’s “Living on the Bay” her monthly newsletter from Seadrift, Texas and our daughter, Cindy’s “Birdwoman programs” that need a special shelf.

Winning the Ferguson Kansas History Book Award

Gail Lee Martin Received an Award in 2010 for Her Childhood Memories

Each fall, the Kansas Authors Club announces winners for various book awards at their annual convention. One of the awards given is the Ferguson Kansas History Book Award.

Gail wrote about it:

I usually attend with my daughter, Cynthia Ross, but not this year. At 86, I felt the trip and activities would be too wearing for me. I missed out on the thrill of a lifetime, and so it was my daughter who walked down the aisle to accept for me the Ferguson Kansas History Award for My Flint Hills Childhood.

Another daughter, Virginia Allain worked closely with me on the editing, selection of photos and arranging the essays. She said it was a thrill, not just for the author, but also for her when the memoir won the award.

The selection of My Flint Hills Childhood: Growing up in 1930s Kansas validated all the hard work that the two of us put into the book. The writing was all Gail Lee Martin, but the packaging of those essays into a book was my daughter’s project. I’m still beaming with pride over this award and my daughter says she is as well.

What the Ferguson Book Award Judges Are Looking for…

 A book by a Kansas resident (KAC members and non-members) on the subject of Kansas History. It can be a history of the state, a county, a city, church, school, institution, an industry, a way of life or a factual account of any phase of Kansas history. NO FICTION. NOT A GENEALOGY.

The entry must have been published within the two years prior to June 1 of the current year. The book may be either privately or commercially published. It must be the original work of the entrant, a minimum of 5,000 words, and must make a significant contribution to Kansas history.

Read the official rules for the Book Award at the Kansas Author Club website.

Some Background on the Award

The Ferguson Award was created in 2000 by KAC member Patricia Ferguson. Ferguson was the President of the Kansas Authors Club from 2002-2003 and Vice President from 2000-2001. The Award was intended to fill the gap created when the Lyons History Book Award ended with the death of founder Ruth Lyons. Ferguson administered another history contest for KAC, The Coffin Book Award, and thought the new Award should focus on Kansas history.

The winners of the original Lyons History Book Award and the Ferguson Kansas History Book Award are archived in the Spencer Research Library at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. As of 2017, only 9 of the awards have been given.


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Gail’s daughter, Cynthia Ross at the KAC convention



Comments from other writers:

Lolly J. of Kansas –What a joy to work as a team to create a book, and to share the thrill of winning a book award!!
Congrats to all concerned. I’m always so happy when histories and memories are recorded for future generations.

Granny Sage – This is awesome for several reasons. First of all to be able to share your writing with your family and have books published together. Secondly, to keep a record of the history of the area you grew up in. I know the work that must have gone into that. And third, but not least, winning an award for your writing. A long time ago I won first prize in the Kansas Authors Club writing contest for an article I wrote on Mother Teresa. I know the thrill of walking up to get your award and the humble feeling that someone actually read and liked what you wrote.

Personalize Your Bookshelf

In 2008, Gail Martin wrote the following article for the eHow website.

Bookshelves take on their owner’s personality. Besides the range of titles and the way you organize it, express your personality in the choice of bookends. Here are ideas to personalize a bookshelf.


  1. I like my books separated by authors, rather than all huddled together. So through the 60 plus years of saving books, I have found some unique bookends to do the job of keeping our favorite author’s writings together.

    The old time Kansas school books that I discovered mostly at estate sales, I group together with bookends that are replicas of the school desks like my husband used in the one-room school he attended. They even have two miniature school books with each of them.

  2. On the long top shelf where my husband’s books about Abraham Lincoln fill the whole shelf, I added a pair of heavy bookends depicting the Lincoln Memorial. Between some of the different Lincoln biographers, I added a gold bust of ‘Abe’ sold by Avon and a small, square bottle, decorated with a black silhouette of Lincoln and capped with a gold eagle, separates another group of his books.
  3. I found miniature birdhouses that hold our nature books together. This section includes bird guides and insect books. Also in that section, I placed several Foxfire books that feature the lives of the Appalachian Mountain people and Euell Gibbons book, “Stalking the Wild Asparagus.” What fun we had hunting edible food along the back roads after we retired.
  4. I selected a couple of large pieces of petrified wood that we found on 4-H geology field trips. By adding felt to the bottoms so they don’t scratch the wooden shelves, they make attractive bookends and are certainly heavy enough to hold many books together.

  5. I even use the mantel clock that my sister and her husband made for us one Christmas to separate sections of books. It’s made of local black walnut wood.
  6. On one bookshelf, I use old blue-green canning jars to hold categories of cookbooks apart. In one jar, I collect buttons; in another I drop marbles when I find them and in some I put sand to make them heavier. I like to separate all the canning books in one place and cookbooks published by churches and families in another.

 Tips & Warnings

  • Heavy objects make good bookends.
  •  Lighter items can separate subjects or authors in a row of books.
  •  Open items can be filled with something weighty like sand to make it heavy enough to serve as a bookend.
  •  Put felt on the bottom of anything that might scratch the bookshelf.

Promoting Mom’s Books

When I helped my 86 year old mom self-publish her childhood memories, I also took on the job as PR person for the book. I posted blurbs all over the Internet, sent postcards to libraries and helped arrange author talks and book signings.

We sent this postcard to libraries in Kansas to promote my mother's memoir.

We sent this postcard to libraries in Kansas to promote my mother’s memoir.

One fun way to promote the book was with a t-shirt. You can get these printed up locally or use a site like Zazzle or Vistaprint. Get everyone in the family to wear the shirts. Have them prepped to talk enthusiastically about the book when someone asks them.

A sunflower seemed like a good match for a Kansas memoir. I ordered this t-shirt from x to promote My Flint Hills Childhood.

A sunflower seemed like a good match for a Kansas memoir. I ordered this t-shirt from Vistaprint to promote My Flint Hills Childhood.

Make sure they know where people can buy the book too. With the t-shirts, friends and family can become walking billboards promoting the book. Besides being available online (see below), we made the books available at the Kansas Oil Museum in El Dorado, Kansas and at the Greenwood County Historical Museum in Eureka, Kansas.

Have you written a book? If so, then you know that promoting the book is a lot of work.

Here’s my mother’s memoir. It won the 2010 Ferguson Kansas History Book award.

Gail Lee Martin's memoir is available from Blurb.com

Gail Lee Martin’s memoir is available from Blurb.com

Mom’s stories plus some of mine and my sisters were compiled in this book about my dad.

The book about Dad is also available from Blurb.

The book about Dad is also available from Blurb.

N is for Never Ninety

I wanted my mother to live forever, I guess. Even though I knew that wasn’t realistic, I was hopeful that she’d live well into her nineties at least. After all, her grandmother lived to be 91 and great-grandfather lived to 92. Her Aunt Bertha lived to 96 and Aunt Vina to 94.

Those are all from the Tower line in our family. It’s pretty remarkable for people born in the 1800s to live that long. I was hoping that those Tower genes would carry Mom along into the nineties too.

We had worked together to complete the two books, Mom’s memoir and the collected stories about Dad’s life. I’d hoped the three works-in-progress gave her some incentive to hang around. I really needed her input on our Civil War ancestor’s book and on Aunt Bertha’s biography.

The book includes her prize-winning essay on "My Mother's Apron."

My mother’s memoir.

They say that having a passion for something contributes to longevity. Sadly, she did not regain her zest for writing and research and genealogy after Dad died. Her health issues and missing her spouse of 67 years dragged her down. She died of a broken hip followed by a heart attack at 88.

Now it is up to me to make those books happen. I worry that there will be gaps that I can’t fill without her knowledge of family history. I worry that I can’t tell the stories like she could.

Knowing that they won’t be perfect, I need to go forward with the projects. It is what she would want. Here’s hoping I live until 99 to complete all the family projects.

The book about Dad.

The book about Dad.

What’s on My Plate?

I’ve been lax about keeping up with the Blog Every Day in May challenge. It has inspired me to write more here than I might otherwise. The topic for today is “What’s on your plate?” Now I could write about food, but the question makes me think of all the things I want to get done.

Mom and I were collaborating on two family books before she died. One was about her aunt, Bertha McGhee, and the other was about her great-grandfather, Abraham Bates Tower. She had some primary source material on both of them and some memories of her aunt.

I rue that I didn’t ask her more questions on the two topics. She had sent home with me the letters, the diary, and other notes, photos and memorabilia on the two relatives. I’ve been diligently researching and reading up on background information to add to the books.

It feels like a huge project, so I need to break each one down into sections and focus on working my way through a section at a time. Maybe then I won’t feel so ineffectual in the progress on the books. I’ve been dragging my feet on transcribing 40 years of Aunt Bertha’s letters. Fortunately her handwriting is fairly clear. I need to do it soon, as there are still some relatives who can answer questions that may turn up from the letters.

Here's Bertha McGhee (on the right) in New Mexico with some of the other teachers from the Navajo school.

Here’s Bertha McGhee (on the right) in New Mexico with some of the other teachers from the Navajo school.