When Katie Willmarth Green (no relation) worked as a docent at a historic California mine, children on her tours were disappointed by the lack of materials specifically for them in the museum’s gift shop. After Green moved to Wisconsin, she wrote a middle grade book to address this need. “Deborah Whitney of Shady Flat” tells the story of a real-life girl living at a mining homestead during the northern California Gold Rush.
In 2020, Green published the third novel in the Deborah Whitney series. “Shall We Gather at the River?” relates the challenges Debbie confronted as a teen, when she cared for her dying mother in a mid-19th-century town, downriver from her beloved Shady Flat. Adult readers can appreciate Debbie’s trials and the accurate details of frontier living — when primary vegetables in winter were sauerkraut and pickles and the duties of day-to-day existence were arduous.
Categorically fiction, the series is based on Whitney family genealogy and years of historical research. “These stories,” Green says, “are stretched over facts.”
You may also wish to use fiction to share your genealogy research. If you do, be sure to explain your stories, too, are “stretched over facts.”
Telling Debbie’s story through historical fiction enables Green to take a broader view than possible in many just-the-facts genealogies. Her books highlight such themes as bullying, environmental damage, women’s rights and other historic issues that resonate with modern readers.
Green herself grew up in Debbie’s Shady Flat cabin, where her parents moved in 1946. She published her first nonfiction book, “Like a Leaf Upon the Current Cast: An Intimate History of Shady Flat, Neighboring Gold Rush Landmarks & Pioneer Families Along the North Fork of the Yuba River Between Downieville & Sierra City, California” in 2004. The book, she explains, was “a blunt instrument against the Forest Service,” which wanted to bulldoze all these “ugly old shacks” that in fact represented the earliest settlement period. Eventually, the Willmarth family deeded Shady Flat, now located in the middle of the Tahoe National Forest, to the Sierra County Arts Council.
A former Voice contributor, Green lives with her husband, Alan Green, also an author, in Plain.
“Shall We Gather at the River” is available in Spring Green at The Office Market and Arcadia Books. For an autographed copy, email Green at firstname.lastname@example.org. There are chapter endnotes, appendices and intriguing photos and illustrations. $24.95. 352 pp.
Doris Green authored “Elsie’s Story: Chasing a Family Mystery” and “Wisconsin Underground: A Guide to Cave, Mines, and Tunnels.” Also available: “Minnesota Underground: A Guide to Caves & Karst, Mines & Tunnels” co-authored with Greg Brick. Contact http://henschelhausbooks.com, Amazon or your bookstore.