Ancestor’s Surprising Legal Career Inspires Historical Novel

Guest blog by Sydney Avey

Nellie BelleMy great-grandmother Nellie Belle Carter was the family’s black sheep. In the early 1900s she left the fold to pursue an unusual career. My mother described her as a stern, sarcastic, determined woman who was an excellent writer. But it was her independent ways that made her a legend. “And, you are just like her!” mom would say, in a less than complimentary tone.

Nellie started life as a Kansas farm girl who taught herself shorthand for fun when she was young. In her teens, she followed her parents’ wishes to marry their ranch foreman, a man fifteen her senior. She bore him three children before making her escape.

Nellie found employment first as a court stenographer in Spokane, WA and later as an itinerant court reporter traveling with judges and attorneys. She recorded trial proceedings in makeshift courtrooms up and down the west coast. The experience opened her eyes to a new world.

“I was raised in hotels,” my nana Opal told me. “I didn’t much like it.” Still, she spoke more fondly of Nellie than did my mother. “The judges and attorneys enjoyed her company,” nana said. “She was a great conversationalist, bright and witty.”

Nellie wrote short stories she titled Leaves from a Reporter’s Notebook and I inherited these unpublished vignettes carefully typed on legal paper. They revealed the lives of enterprising women and hard-working immigrants who became entangled with the law in a day when justice was swift and judgments common sense. Some accounts were funny; others poignant; all described life in the era when women entered the workforce and began to labor for social justice.

Intrigued by the great-grandmother I never met, I wanted to get to know her. So I decided to put her on the literary stage and let her explain herself. She did an excellent job. The stories I heard growing up, the unique voice that resounds in her writings, scrapbooks full of clues, and genealogical records served as the basis of my research. My novel The Trials of Nellie Belle follows her adventures and traces her influence on succeeding generations of passionate women with strong work ethics.

Family stories about ancestors who chose non-traditional paths lend themselves to both cautionary tales about consequences and inspiring accounts of courage. Do not neglect to tell your stories!

SydneyAvey400 Sydney Avey is the author of three historical fiction novels about women who respond to changing times by choosing unconventional lifestyles. Still, these independent women yearn for deep family ties. Sydney worked in high-tech marketing communications before she decided to pursue her heart’s desire to write fiction and poetry. She and her husband make their home in the Sierra Nevada foothills of California and the Sonoran desert in Arizona. Sydney belongs to the American Christian Fiction Writers, the Sonora Writers Group, and Women Writing the West.

If you would like to learn more about The Trials of Nellie Belle and other books by Sydney, you can visit Torchflame Books.

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