A Wicked Welcome to Mary Lee Ashford! **giveaway!**

by Julie, waiting for winter in Somerville

I’ve met Mary Lee Ashford at several conferences over the years, and have so enjoyed getting to know her. A lovely person, and wonderful writer. I’m so happy to welcome her the blog!

Who Are You? 

by Mary Lee Ashford

Have you seen the PBS show, FINDING YOUR ROOTS? I confess, I’m completely hooked on it! Hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., it explores the ancestry of celebrity guests. The stories are often surprising, sometimes upsetting, and always interesting. Often, they don’t match up with what has been passed down by family members through the years. At times, they reveal talking about the past was taboo. As a writer, I find the show endlessly fascinating. The family histories spark ideas. The places, the journeys, the people. Their stories speak to the storyteller in me. Their stories cause me to look at the characters in my stories and ask, “Who are you?” 

Though we each take different approaches to character development, all of us who write consider the backgrounds of our story people in one way or another. When I first started writing, I used lengthy character sheets, with everything from the obvious details of name, age, and physical descriptions to an inventory of likes/dislikes, favorite foods, and, of course, pets. My info sheet also often included parents, siblings, and family history as well. And that has definitely come into play in many of my books. However, what I’ve found is that the more important question is, what do the characters think about the past and what they know or don’t know. How does the background of their parents or grandparents impact their world view? 

Sugar Calloway in my Sugar & Spice series was affected by her parent’s divorce and by her mother’s need to keep moving. Sugar longs for roots. Her father, a writer, died before sharing any of his history. Dixie Spicer, her business partner, has family roots that are deep. The Spicer family has lived in the St. Ignatius community for generations. Both of those backgrounds play into their actions and reactions. 

In the most recent installment in the series, QUICHE OF DEATH (out in July 2020) Sugar learns more about genealogy methods, familial DNA and about the impact of surprise discoveries. Working with the Abbott family on their cookbook, she learns a lot about their background. But Sugar, much like celebrities on the television show, has only small pieces of her own history.

I recently did one of those DNA tests and discovered, according to the results that I’m 84% British. Who knew, right? Well, I did know that I had some UK in my background – my maiden name was Salsbury after all – but I didn’t know how much. I’ve had fun on some of the genealogy sites making connections and filling in missing branches on my family tree. I knew we were related to Daniel Boone on my mother’s side and to candy maker Russell Stover. I did not know about the John Milton connection, so that was a fun discovery. 

Now, I don’t think I necessarily inherited my love of adventure or my love of chocolate from those relatives, but I do wonder about the choices made by the people who came before me. I wonder about the why. Why did they choose the paths they did? And how did that impact life decisions made by my parents and grandparents? Like Sugar, in my books, I have some of the pieces of my history and I wish I knew more.

What do you think? Have you done any research into your family’s history? And what kind of impact do you think family history has on our lives? 

Readers, Mary Lee is going to give away a copy of either Game of Scones or Risky Biscuits to one commenter on the blog!


Mary Lee Ashford is a lifelong bibliophile, an avid reader, and supporter of public libraries. In addition to writing the Sugar & Spice mystery series, she also writes as half of the writing team of Sparkle Abbey. She is the founding president of Sisters in Crime-Iowa and a former board member of Mystery Writers of America Midwest. She teaches a university level class on creativity and loves encouraging other writers as well as connecting with readers. 

Website: www.MaryLeeAshford.com
Game of Scones – Sugar & Spice Mysteries Book 1
Risky Biscuits – Sugar & Spice Mysteries Book 2
Quiche of Death – Sugar & Spice Mysteries Book 3 – Coming July 2020
Let’s Connect! Facebook Twitter InstagramPinterest – BookBub

60 Thoughts

  1. I have been trying BBC to research our family. Cant find ships either side came over on or where from. Husband has had little success either.We will keep trying. Would love your 2nd book.

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    1. Candy, I’ve just begun so I’ve not yet delved into the ships and passenger lists. You’re exactly right in that it’s something where you have to keep trying. I’ll think I’ve made a little headway and then hit a dead-end. Good luck with your research!

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  2. Welcome, Mary Lee! You have some awesome book titles there. My Maxwell side is very well documented, back to Scotland, in a big black book I have a copy of. I know something of my mother’s father’s Flaherty side and her mother’s Skinner side, too, but I’m sure much is missing.

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  3. I love that show! I did my family research for many years and traced 13 branches going back to 1600s France. It’s so interesting and it’s amazing how connected you can feel to people you’ve never met but with whom you share a bloodline. You’re books sound great – would love to read them!

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    1. I know, Renee! Isn’t it a great show? You’re absolutely right about feeling connected to people. It’s been fun to share the research. Tracing back to 1600s France is amazing. I’ve been able to get there on a couple of branches but have many gaps in others.

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  4. I loved this blog, and I love Finding Your Roots. No, I havent’ done DNA and probably won’t. It is the stories I would like to have, that weren’t told when they could have been. Like many immigrants fleeing bad treatment somewhere else, my grandparents never really wanted to talk about the past. (They were all Jews from different parts of what used to be the Russian Empire.) And some of my books do have a running theme – it sneaked in, I didn’t plan it! – of family history lost and found.

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    1. Thanks, Triss. The stories so valuable and often so hard to come by. My family was the same – little discussion about the past. I hadn’t thought about it but it’s probably the same for me. The theme of family history lost and found has sort of sneaked in without me actually planning it. 🙂

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  5. I’ve done a little bit of researching on my mother’s side but haven’t been able to find much about my dad’s side of the family. I’d like the first book in the series if I win. Thanks for the chance.

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    1. Becky, that’s true for me as well. On my mom’s side other family members had done some great research and so I’ve learned a lot about that side. But on my father’s side no one is left and public records only go so far. I wish I’d asked more questions when I had the chance.

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  6. LOVE the titles of your books! (Risky Biscuits, heh heh heh)

    I did an Ancestry DNA test recently and was almost disappointed to find that I’m a whopping 94% English/Irish/Scottish. I knew one grandmother was born in Manchester, so wasn’t totally surprised. But I was hoping for a surprise. A rogue Pakistani great-great uncle, maybe.

    Ah, well. Thanks for the fun post. I look forward to picking up your cleverly titled books!

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    1. Thanks, Robin. I do love a fun title! I was a bit like you on the DNA test I was hoping for some rogue ancestors, but few rebels in my lineage. 🙂 We apparently were adventurous enough to make the move across the pond, but once in the New World, we only ventured to a few places.

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  7. My aunt has done a lot of research on my grandmother’s family, but that’s about it. I know her husband came from Croatia. I know on my dad’s side, my grandfather’s family drank too much and my grandmother’s family came from somewhere in Pennsylvania. And that’s about it.

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  8. My family history is Italian on my father’s side.Since my grandparents immigrated here in the early 1900’s, I would say that influenced my family a great deal! I’ve always been grateful that I know about my family roots. Congratulations on your upcoming release and thank you for the giveaway!

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    1. Thanks, Autumn! Love your name, by the way. It’s wonderful to know about your family roots. I’ve decided that for my own kids at least I can start from what I know. Right now, it’s bits and pieces but I keep filling in details a little at a time.

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  9. Welcome. Oh but this looks like a wonderful book/story. I have had my DNA done. So has my husband. My moms mom kept a lot of photos and she added to them as I got older. After she died, my mom and I went through them. Mom could tell me who a few of them where but not the rest. There were no names or dates on the back. Moms family didnt keep anything on their family history. I do know that moms great grandother was 100% Cherokee. But because of the randomness of genes from both parents, all children will have a different percentage of each heritage. My dads side has no records whatsoever. But on my husbands side, there is a ton of information, photos, letters, stories passed down and written down etc. We have letters from Germany and France and from Chicago to Germany and France. A lot of them. There are some really fascinating photos. We are talking RICH in history here. So much fun. My husband has been doing our genealogy and there are so many fascinating things and so many people we had no idea about. One was, on my husbands side – one of his uncles had a house in the upper peninsula of Michigan and often let Al Capone park his car in his garage so it was out of sight. Stuff like this.
    quilting dash lady at comcast dot net

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    1. Lori, what a great story! You make a great point about pictures. I’m trying to identify as many as I can. Both of my parents are gone and there are some I’ve marked to ask other family members about. My brother is older than me so I’m hoping he will know people I couldn’t identify.

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  10. My cousin did a lot of research into my mother’s maternal family and I remember my great-grandparents having met them as a child. Things are murkier on Mom’s paternal side since her father was accidentally born in the US. We know my great-grandmother’s family owned a shipping company in Naples and Marseilles, but how it came to pass that my grandfather was born in upstate New York, well, that we don’t know. Dad’s family on his father’s side is a complete mystery. He left Europe at 13 and never said a word about anything. There are lots of rumors, but no substantiation.

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  11. Welcome back! I’ve never watched that show but always thought it sounded interesting. And I really love the dynamic you’ve set up between your two characters! On my father’s side there is lots of genealogy information–they were record keepers. But very little on my mother’s.

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  12. I haven’t done any research into my family history. I know so many people who are fascinated by it, but I’m not one of them for whatever reason.

    Glad to know there is a new book coming this summer. I’ve enjoyed the first two.

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  13. Fabulous fun, good and Family. Your covers are wonderful..
    Food kind of comes down thru family when we are young.
    We learn favorites, perhaps cook with gran baking old recipes of her mom’s.Holidays we take our old favorites of family’s. So family is threaded thru out food during our life.
    I began our Family Tree 🌳Research when I was 10 with an old box of photos gran threw out when gramps died. We lived next door, I dragged It in. Spent years going though it.
    Slowly I would take a pile to grand and she would tell me the story and identify each person. Eventually all the hundreds of photos were done, stories recorded and names attached. I made a family tree dated it back to the 1720s eventually. Still have relatives keep in touch to record marriages &deaths. It has been 50 years of work, research, census reports, etc.. Mostly close family knew how we came over from Framce.
    Your research will be understood by many.
    Blessings💞

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    1. I love how you saved the photos that were going to be tossed – and lost! And how wonderful to listen to and capture the stories that go with each one. A tone of work but you’ve created something that will be valued and enjoyed for many years to come! ❤

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  14. Thanks for visiting today. Mary Lee! I love history, including family history! One of my aunts was a dedicated amateur genealogist and she generously shared all of her research with me. I have hundreds of pages of family trees and short biographies. I love considering how those people lived, loved and migrated. I am noodling on a story right now about something concerning my family history and am looking forward to working on it.

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  15. My sister is the archivist in the family. We’re heavily Irish, with some other countries (cultures?) added here and there. As others have said, the past is fascinating and I like imagining the stories of the people in my family tree.

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    1. Katie, I envy you your archivist sister! I keep hoping someone else in my family will take an interest, but I’m afraid I’m it. The imagining of the stories of the people in my family tree is truly my favorite part!

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  16. A couple relatives did extensive research into both my material grandparents sides of the family. I’d like to learn more about my dad’s side. It’s very complicated though, lots of step/half/adopted siblings of his father and not much information beyond that.

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    1. Alicia, that’s it exactly. I ran into those problems as well with half-siblings or step-siblings sometimes the records aren’t clear. And though we have more standard processes today that wasn’t always the case.

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  17. My Great Aunt researched my Dad’s maternal side of the family and had the family tree printed up and bound into a booklet for the family. One thing I found interesting was that the spelling of the family name was spelled quite differently in the Netherlands than it is in the USA. My Sister also has the immigration papers from my Grandfather.

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  18. A couple of my siblings have done some research on our family history, though the only research I’ve done is listening to my great grandmother, grandparents, a couple of great aunts and my mother about our family history. I do know my dad’s g-great uncle came over from Positano, Italy, took the o off of Positano & set up a shoemaker shop in New York. I’d totally love a paperbook of Game of Scones, if I’m chosen! nani_geplcs@yahoo.com

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  19. My mom and I run hot and cold with the family history searches. We work on it for awhile and then nothing for awhile. It can be very time consuming. We do know there is Cherokee Indian (ancestors were on the Trail of Tears) and Irish, but we have done more on the Cherokee side because it is easier research where we are. The Irish side needs a lot more work. As for a DNA test, I’ve thought about it, but unsure. I have a friend that did two different ones and they told her somewhat different things, so I’m kinda undecided about it. Although one of them was from a few years ago and I’m sure technology has changed.

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  20. I know that I am Danish and Canadian. My mom’s father was born in Denmark and her mother was born in Canada! Thanks for the chance to win one of these books!

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    1. Danish and Canadian, a great combination! M daughter-in-law is Canadian but I’ve not found any in my own lineage. But I’m just beginning so still learning more all the time. Good luck in the drawing!

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  21. I did Ancestry.com and found out that my greatest concentration is England, Wales & Northwestern Europe. What a surprise that was!! I have found the genealogical process quite interesting since discovering that. 😊

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  22. I have done research on my family history and one side goes back through Canada and Ireland as well as England (my grandfather is Irish and my grandmother was from England), and then my dad side is more of English, French, German and all the families came from Geneva, Switzerland. My husband is a long generation of California (he is the 6th) and they came from Germany, through San Francisco. So yes I have done a lot of researching and using Ancestry, etc. It is fun and really interesting.

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