author of The Last of the Blacksmiths

(these talks can include vivid powerpoint images using maps and art and photography, if projection is available)

Creating a Legacy from Family Papers and Genealogy
Claire Gebben discovered the untold story of her ancestors when three dozen letters turned up among her family papers. Eventually, these 19th century letters of German immigrant blacksmiths and wagon-makers became the basis of her debut historical novel The Last of the Blacksmiths. Since the book’s publication, readers often come to her with a pressing concern: “I have all these documents, but what can I do with them? Who among my children will ever care or know what they’re about?” A common challenge, but not impossible to overcome. Even trunks full of documents, correspondence, and ephemera can be transformed into a lasting legacy. The presenter shares formats, ideas, organizational tips, and inspiration to ensure the stories of your ancestors, and your own life histories, are not lost.

Tracing Our German Immigrant Ancestors
Author Claire Gebben was inspired to write her debut historical fiction novel The Last of the Blacksmiths based on authentic 19th century letters of her immigrant ancestors, the earliest dated 1841. As she explored her German ancestry, she discovered unique issues facing those engaged in German genealogical research. Claire will share genealogy research tips and tricks she learned as she researched her novel, as well as her adventures learning to blacksmith and harvesting grapes in the vineyards of her ancestors.

A Hidden Heritage: German Immigrants of the 19th Century
Nearly one-quarter of Americans claim some German ancestry. In the mid-19th century, millions of Germans came to the New World in search of a better life. What influence did these German Americans have on the culture, politics, education, economics and family life of the day? And what has become of them? Author of The Last of the Blacksmiths Claire Gebben shares insights uncovered while researching her novel about the buried legacy of the 19th century German immigrant experience.

Getting It Down: Writing Family Stories
Have you ever wanted to record the family stories, but don’t know where to start? Have you written down some of your family history, but aren’t sure how to organize it so others can enjoy it, too? Have your children or grandchildren asked you to write down what you remember about your past, but you’re just not sure what to write about? This presentation will guide you step by step through the process of getting those stories written down for posterity.

The Big Picture: Weaving history into family narratives
Historical time periods of our ancestors can be fascinating, but their lives did not happen in isolation. Rather, they occurred as part of a much broader story. How do we access and weave bigger moments of history into family narratives? With vivid imagery and an examination of “portals” into the past, Claire Gebben offers writing tips and inspiration for making family history come alive.

German Immigration Patterns
Since the 17th century, millions of German-speaking emigrants were leaving Europe for places far and wide, especially North America. Who were they? Why did they leave? The answer? It’s complicated. This talk explores waves of emigration in historical context, for reasons of war, religion, politics, weather, economics and other factors. Talk also takes a look at patterns of settlement of German-Americans once they arrived in North America, and its far-reaching effects today.

For the Record: Memoir, Oral History & Family Life Stories
Your life and family stories comprise an important legacy, but writing them down gets complicated with decisions– which format to choose (memoir? autobiography? genealogical narrative?), what to include, what to leave out, and more. In “For the Record,” author and archivist Claire Gebben leads participants through exercises and strategies for writing about the past, especially in the creation of memoir. This session guides you to the art, and heart of telling your story.

Marburg, Germany, historic capital of Hessia
The town of Marburg, Germany, with its Marburger Schloss castle, museums, cathedrals and 16th century half-timbered houses, was once the seat of the Hessian government, thus the homeland of many early German immigrants to the U.S. In addition to Hessia’s cache of genealogical records, Marburg is home to many intriguing stories, having been at the crossroads of significant events throughout history. In the 1200s, Elizabeth of Thuringia cared for the sick there; the stories of her sainthood and miracles live on through the majestic medieval St. Elizabeth Cathedral. In addition to its Catholic roots, Marburg is the location of the first Protestant university. In 1529, at a key moment of the Reformation, whether or not the various factions of Luther’s Reformation could agree hung in the balance at the Marburg Colloquy. At one time the town was home to the Brothers Grimm. In her powerpoint presentation, Claire Gebben shares sights and history about Marburg she learned while visiting there in 2016.

For high schools: 19th Century Immigration
With the true story of 15-year-old immigrant Michael Harm, author Claire Gebben explores the mid-1800s wave of immigration, those who left Europe in search of a better life, due to famine, hardship, and failed rebellions for democracy across Europe. What did these immigrants find on their arrival in the U.S.? And what impact did they have on U.S. history? Through compelling powerpoint images, Claire Gebben brings to life the topic of 19th century immigrant history.

Meet the Author: Claire Gebben
Like generations before her, author Claire Gebben had kept in contact with her German side of her family via letter writing. A few years ago, she received a fantastic surprise when her relatives in Freinsheim, Germany discovered old letters in their attic written by Claire’s ancestors, German immigrants to Cleveland, Ohio. The discovery led to the historical novel The Last of the Blacksmiths (Coffeetown Press, 2014), based on the true story of her great-great grandfather, a 19th century blacksmith from the Bavarian Rhinelands who travels to America to follow his dreams of freedom and prosperity. To research the novel, author Claire Gebben embarked on a journey that included four days of intensive blacksmithing and a month-long stay in the German Rhinelands. In her powerpoint presentation she’ll share discoveries, adventures, and genealogy tips learned while writing the book.

Team-taught offerings (these sessions can be designed to fit a one-hour session, or in-depth three hour workshops)

The What and Where of Novel Research
As writers, how do we determine what kind of information we need to populate our stories with realistic characters and furnish them with believable settings? And once we know what we need to research, where do we find key resources to answer our questions? This session offers tips and tricks for researching your novel. It is co-taught by Claire Gebben and Michele Genthon.
*Claire Gebben’s novel The Last of the Blacksmiths (Coffeetown Press, 2014), is the compelling tale of a 19th century German immigrant who pursues the American dream. Extensive research for the book has led to invitations to speak on topics ranging from genealogy to German food and wine to blacksmithing to travel in the German Rhinelands.
*Michele Genthon writes about historical Venetian women and her novel Child of the Red Priest was a finalist in the Pacific Northwest Writers Association’s 2014 literary contest. She incorporates her research into her blog, in which she writes about American women who achieved “firsts” as women.

Novel Research: Ready, Set, Go!
Co-taught by Claire Gebben and Roz Ray. Session offers insights and experience for researching a novel and in-class opportunities for participants to formulate a research to-do list and consider new research directions and opportunities. Participants are encouraged to bring a current writing project that needs research.
*Claire Gebben’s novel The Last of the Blacksmiths (Coffeetown Press, 2014), is the compelling tale of a 19th century German immigrant who pursues the American dream. Extensive research for the book has led to invitations to speak on topics ranging from genealogy to German food and wine to blacksmithing to travel in the German Rhinelands.
*Roz Ray is a Seattle historical fiction writer. She studied history at Western Washington University and Assyriology at Johns Hopkins University, and graduated from the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts in 2014. She recently finished her first novel (forthcoming), set in Seattle in 1889, and is researching her second novel. She was a top three finalist for the Mixer Publishing Literary Science Fiction Contest. When she’s not writing, she builds houses and teaches novel-writing residencies in elementary school classrooms.