About Me, and Helena’s Stories

Hi, I’m Carolyn Osborne.By Svitozar Nenyuk

I live well off the beaten path, in Virginia near the Blue Ridge Mountains, with my very tolerant husband and our dog, cat and birds. Outside, we have ponds with beautiful lotus, water lilies and orfes (fish), and a hen house complete with chickens. I love being outside.

In the wider world: I sing  and volunteer in a community chorus, belong to a reading group and a writer’s group.

Indoors,  I write a lot, read a lot (mostly history and science fiction), and clean house very little. I also love to cook. It’s a very rich life.

I love bringing history, especially family history, to life. My current project is a series called Helena’s Stories. Here’s how it all started.


On a sunny July afternoon in 1998, we were driving from my sister’s house in Greensboro, North Carolina to our home near Charlottesville, Virginia. The road stretched endless ahead of us, and the sun and the miles traveled were making us sleepy. In the back seat, my husband was snoring – not very softly. I was driving, and my mother was ‘riding shotgun.’

Probably to help me stay alert, Mom started talking about our old family stories. Some of them were familiar, but many were not. Without respecting any order of time or place, she told me stories set in England in the 1780’s, North Carolina around 1800, France and England in the 12th Century, India in Victorian times, the remote island of St. Helena in the 1800s, and California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains in the 1870’s. She talked about wars and shipwrecks; massacres and weddings; preachers and bandits; heroes and ordinary folk; despots of the benevolent and not-so-benevolent kinds; wagon trains and horses and rattlesnakes. “And,” she said, “these are only some of the family stories.” These were stories that needed to be preserved and carried forward.

I asked her who was related to whom, and she tried to explain ten centuries of a well- documented but not quite articulated family tree. I finally had to ask, “Mom, do you have all this written down?”

“Oh,” said she, rather airily, “well, I have several boxes and many bags and, um, some drawers oh, and more bags, of mixed clippings, copies of stories and family trees, letters…. all of them work done by….”   naming family members I knew, and some I didn’t. The following December, my husband and I drove from Virginia to Mom’s house in Texas to celebrate Christmas. When we drove home, our car was packed with the results of many years of work by many people. There was, inevitably, a big project ahead.

I organized and entered all the data I could, used the Internet as a resource and after about two years ended up with a family tree that goes back nearly 40 generations. The information was all there: it just needed assembling.

It was the stories that showed up in the research that really caught my attention. Whether they’re true, fantastical or somewhere in between (which is probably the most frequent case), our stories are part of our family identity and culture.  I find the stories exciting. Some are inherently dramatic, but many of them were just occurrences in the ordinary lives of ordinary people, which gain drama and interest in historical context, especially from our modern view. I promised Mom that I would someday try to write at least some of these stories from the personal perspective of the people involved.

Scan0006Doing  this writing involves lots of research, some guesswork, and often only sort-of justified assumptions. On the other hand, the more historical research I do, the more
I am aware how much of history is fleshed out in exactly that way. I am happy to call these stories historical fiction, but each grows from a kernel of the reality of an earlier time.

Mom died in 2004, but she survives in the hearts of her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and in her furtherance of the stories of our ancestors. It is to my mother, Helena, that I dedicate Helena’s Stories. She was a remarkable woman.

This photo of her was taken when she was 87 years old (but didn’t like to admit it).