Q: How did you become interested in this topic and how did your background prepare you to write An Uncommon Cape?
A: I’ve always been curious about the houses and apartments I’ve lived in. I like to imagine what those places were like in times past. Growing up, I was surrounded by people who gave me a sense that the world is full of written records documenting the lives of our country’s earliest citizens and that if you looked long and hard enough, you could find answers to questions. And then studying the history of art in graduate school was excellent preparation for researching all aspects of history.
Q: How did you manage your time, with a full-time job and a family, to write this book? Did you have a writing schedule?
A: I did not adhere to a research and writing schedule, but I did break the project into small parts so that I was usually focusing on one topic or chapter at a time. At first, I was just looking for information for the fun of it. Then I put together what I had learned about the Gedney family into an article, which I was able to get published. Another article followed and then an outline for what became the book. The thought of a book began to emerge about 4 years after I started gathering information.
Q: If you did not have a book in mind in the beginning of your research, what kept you going?
A: Curiosity and the joy of trying something new and different. I wasn’t doing it for fame or fortune. I did it because I was interested in it. I got positive feedback along the way—articles published, good responses to the 12 book proposals I submitted to publishers, and interest from people I talked to. I have a natural curiosity about history and am fascinated by the question—what was this place like in the old days? The mysteries I encountered drew me in, and I thought it would be fun to share the story with others.
Q: Genealogy is usually associated with family history. Did you research any family genealogies?
A: I did do some genealogy research to find information on various owners of my property. Particularly with the Gedney family, there were so many generations, some with repeated names, that in order to sort out who was who, and what happened when, genealogy research came in handy.
Q: How does property research relate to doing genealogy research?
A: Interestingly, genealogy has been found to be the second most widespread hobby in America today. The currently popular television series, Who Do You Think You Are? on NBC and Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates Jr. on PBS, remind me every week of my property research. Although they have vast resources to travel the world and hire multiple researchers to do the work, and the NBC series seems like one big ad for Ancestry.com, both programs offer much to be emulated by the individual researcher of property.
Q: You have said that the kind of work you have done with this book offers the inhabitant of any plot of land the potential for a heritage of place, a heritage that is democratic and essentially American. What do you mean by that?
A: Owning a home has been, as reviewer Michael Lobel has written, “a profound part of contemporary American identity.” But even when you don’t own your home, you still live somewhere. So everyone (regardless of personal family history and any research obstacles encountered there) can participate in a heritage of place.
Q: How is your book a model for others interested in doing this kind of research?
A: More than 20 sidebars are interspersed throughout the story I tell in An Uncommon Cape. They consider a variety of research tools and offer the reader tips on how to do research.