I pulled the ancient book out of the box and a musty odor filled my nostrils. Brown, brittle pieces of dry leather fluttered down as I gently held the tome in my hand—a published genealogy of my family, dating from the 17th century—what a treasure! A mere quirk landed the worn epistle in my possession when my elderly aunt passed away. It hadn’t been willed to me. It simply ended up with me after she gave it to me to read. I had packed it in a box and forgotten about it.
I turned the delicate pages and began to read of the religious turmoil in France during the 17th century that fashioned forever the beliefs and destiny of the Clewell family. The French spelling differed—“Clavel,” sometimes “Clavell.” Why did that matter to my ancestors to change it? It seemed to me a minor point.
I stared at the journaling of the vibrant soul of my family, whittled to impersonal, black notations on a yellowed, antique page. I was humbled by the sacrifice my ancestors made for our faith. The words of the volume drew me into their world.
Thus, began my journey in recreating, in my imagination, the journey of the Clavell family, from Grenoble, Dauphiné Province, France, to Switzerland and then finally settling in this country in Pennsylvania. I attempted to keep the “bones” of the history of the persecution of the French Huguenots in 17th century France accurate. The information surrounding King Louis and Versailles is factual, aside from the connection with the Clavell family. My ancestors were actually sold to redemptioners after landing in Philadelphia to pay for their passage to this country and served several years as indentured servants. But the sinew, muscle and flesh of the story line are fictitious.
As I wrote the story I asked myself if I could have been as strong as my ancestor was after landing in America, a widow with two sons, penniless and alone. The strong character of this woman fascinated me as I did the research and told Madeleine’s story. (Her real name was Louisa.)
Where Hearts Are Free, the concluding novel in the Darkness to Light series, explores the story of Madeleine’s two sons, Philippe and Charles, as they struggle to live with integrity in their situations as indentured servants, looking forward to the time when they would be free.