The Gene Pool: Paul Fronczak and San Miguel

I find my time writing and my time researching are currently at odds with each other. My solution is to sum up a few genealogy-related items I’ve come across in the media. I’m calling it The Gene Pool because I’m clever.

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Item #1:

The mystery continues in the Paul Fronczak case. Have you heard this story?

Here's where the story starts. This is stuff you can't make up!
Here’s where the story starts. This is stuff you can’t make up!

Fifty years ago, a baby named Paul Fronczak was stolen from a Chicago hospital by a woman dressed as a nurse. Months later, a baby is found in a field in New Jersey and is believed to be Paul. The elated parents took the baby in believing him to be theirs. This was back in 1964.

Recently, the man raised as Paul Fronczak took a DNA test that revealed he was not actually the kidnapped baby. So he decides to find out who he is and what happened to the real Paul Fronczak.

Click on the newspaper article above or google the thorough (if somewhat smarmily produced) ABC news story if you haven’t heard it. It’s worth it; there are so many unexpected twists and turns. And thanks to advances in DNA mapping, we no longer have to rely on the shapes of baby’s ears to identify them.

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Item #2, no spoilers:

The author of The Road to Wellville and The Women tackles yet another place and time. Two families living on a remote island off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, from the 1880s to the 1940s weather wars, the Depression, and a whole lotta sheep.

San Miguel by T. C. Boyle
San Miguel by T. C. Boyle

T. C. Boyle has long been a favorite author of mine. The way he weaves a fictional story around the hard data of actual events is masterful. The three segments of the book feel a little more like character sketches than a story with an arc. But the care with which Boyle writes about them makes up for the seeming lack of connection between the two families. This book made me realize that the fiction I’ve been writing about my family is heavily influenced by his work.

Boyle creates a solid tone and setting in the wind-swept, barren terrain of San Miguel island. He also manages to gently insert his theme of environmentalism into the story. The eventual mistreatment of the island leads directly to the outcome of their stories. The author also plays around with the idea of technology changing people’s lives. Nowadays, the internet is just another tool we use everyday. We don’t think much about the time it took to creep into our lives, how extraordinary it seemed at first, and the changes we made to fit it into society. Boyle’s introduction of the radio and the airplane into the Lester’s secluded life made me look at those everyday items as new and wondrous.

I got so caught up in the story of the living, breathing people upon which this book is based that I had to go into my Ancestry account and see what I could find on the two families. Here’s a couple items with no spoilers:

 

This phone directory from 1905 shows Capt. Waters's declaration as the President of a bunch of sheep.
This phone directory from 1905 shows Capt. Waters’s declaration as the President of a bunch of sheep.
The Lesters 1940 census
And this 1940 census record shows that the mild annoyance of manning the weather station kept the Lesters afloat on the island.

I’m withholding my opinions about this book so as not to spoil it for any of you interested in reading it. If you do read it, and want to discuss it with me, please comment on this post! Comment on it anyway, let me know you’re out there, instead of just being a statistic on this site.

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