Family stories, unplugged: How one daughter finally got the backstory on her mother’s roots


Jessie Rice, age 2

Some families are awash in personal history, with photos displayed on every available surface at home; oft-repeated tales of days gone by; a keen awareness of the family tree and its roots.  Among those of us who did not grow up in that kind of house is the writer and musician Chèrie Newman.

The fact that family lore was elusive had nagged her for decades.  Aging gave it a sense of urgency, as did the arrival of the next generation. Given her perch as the eldest of seven children, as well as her flair for storytelling, she felt a sense of responsibility and drive to unearth the story of her family.

A sister constructed the family tree, but Chèrie yearned to give those names backstory and deeper dimension.

Though she had scant success in getting her father to dig back into family lore, she made headway with her mother, Jessie, now 84 who explained that she didn’t talk about the past because it made her sad.

It took some time and some prompts, but Chèrie got her to explain the details of her difficult childhood-and to unearth never-before-seen family photographs to go along with the stories.

From this treasure trove of memory and pictures, she learned the texture and detail of her mother’s early years in the Pacific Northwest at a unique moment in time.

She also got a richer, fuller picture of this woman she’s known her entire life.

Just having the information wasn’t enough. Chèrie spent months editing photos and her mother’s words into a book that spans her first 18 years.

She recently delivered the final product.  Listen to our chat to hear more of Chèrie’s methodology, as well as her mother’s reaction to her autobiography.