A California woman has taken family history to a unique and interesting level.
Diane Stevenson Stone of Pebble Beach, California, has written and illustrated a historical fiction novel about her ancestor, Mary Chilton, a passenger on the Mayflower and the first girl to step foot on Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts. The 226-page book is titled "Mary of the Mayflower" and was released in 2013.
Chilton was one of eight ancestors on the Mayflower who Stone found in her family tree. Inspired by her father, Stanley W. Stevenson, Stone spent several years researching Chilton's life, the voyage of the Mayflower and the historical context before writing the book. In the process, she connected with her ancestor in a deep and personal way.
"It became real to me. History can be spiritual," said Stone, who recently found Chilton's gravesite at the King's Chapel in Boston. "I wanted people to feel what I was feeling from the research."
The story is told through the eyes of 13-year-old Chilton, who relates her adventurous journey to Plymouth Rock in 1620. Chilton would go on to become the mother of 11 children before passing away at the age of 73. The book has received a strong endorsement from the National Mayflower Society, Stone said.
"It's a part of history that has never really been told, so it was an exciting book to write," said Stone, who is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "There were so many exciting dynamics that took place — the Puritans, passengers on an overcrowded ship, the storms, and the late voyage that put them in the middle of a fierce winter when they arrived. Half of them died that first winter."
Stone's goal was to put readers in the middle of the action so they could experience each part of the journey with the pilgrims, she said.
"I wanted it to be authentic. I wanted to tell the story with the same feelings and passion the passengers had for religious freedom ... so if they were to read it they would say, 'Yes, that's right,' " Stone said. "This is more than a book. It's a story of courage, faith, sacrifice and religious freedom, so it's pertinent today."
The book's cover is an original 1877 painting by artist Henry A. Bacon, titled "Landing of the Pilgrims." The scene depicts young Mary stepping from a boat onto the solid ground of Plymouth Rock. Stone found the painting hanging in the Pilgrim Hall Museum and received permission to use it for her book.
A short foreword for the book was written by author, film director and producer Kieth W. Merrill. The book also contains additional information about people of interest, a glossary of pilgrim terms and interesting facts, along with other historical notes. Stone believes these educational resources combined with the narrative would make the story appealing to middle school-age students as well as anyone who has a passion for history.
"Mary of the Mayflower" is available on Amazon.com and other online retailers. Stone encourages readers to take on a similar project for a fun and meaningful family history experience.
"It's our heritage and really our privilege to record it (our histories) and protect it for generations to come," she said.
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