WATSONVILLE — When Santa Cruz author Jean Mahoney was a little girl, she discovered an old, battered scrapbook in her family’s home. The book was full of news articles and other treasures, revealing a history about her ancestors that she had never known.
This initial exposure kickstarted Mahoney’s interest in learning more about her family and telling their stories.
Mahoney’s “Brave Hearts: A San Francisco Story - The Grit and Dreams of an Irish American Family” was published by Sisters Singing Publishing in January. It follows her mother’s family — from Mahoney’s great-great-great-grandparents in Ireland in the 1800s, to their immigration to the U.S. in the 1840s and their lives after eventually settling in the San Francisco Bay Area.
“I was absolutely fascinated by what my family went through,” Mahoney said. “With this book, I wanted to show how life has its ups and downs; that people in history were real, hard-working and faced unique challenges every day.”
“Brave Hearts” uses both nonfiction and historical fiction, weaving the two together in the narrative along with photographs, artwork and letters from Mahoney’s family.
“I feel so lucky,” Mahoney said. “My mother was always writing things down and saving bits of her family’s lives. I had a lot to work with.”
In writing “Brave Hearts,” Mahoney said she wanted to highlight the women of her family tree — their unique experiences and points of view.
“When you read history it’s often focusing on only the men,” she said. “Women are only mentioned as the spouses of the men they married. I wanted to do things differently.”
The book follows her ancestors, especially her grandparents’ lives, often at the time of major historical events. A newspaper clipping revealed to Mahoney that her grandparents were on board during a major train wreck in 1903. Another was saved following the devastating 1906 earthquake. It also touches upon the family through their own personal struggles and triumphs — such as the time they opened a silent movie theater and experienced the very first motion picture.
“My grandparents were amazing, and apparently very friendly people,” she said. “It was fun to learn more about them and how they lived.”
Since publishing “Brave Hearts” in January, Mahoney has been busy promoting the book, giving presentations in Santa Cruz and Aptos. Another is planned in San Francisco at the end of March.
Mahoney added that she was grateful to many people for helping her write her first book, including her local writing group, her wife Carolyn Flynn and daughters Katie and Emily, and especially her late mother, Barbara Mahoney.
“My mother was so supportive of me and my writing,” she said. “I owe her so much.”
On March 16 from 1-3 p.m., Mahoney will make an appearance at Kelly’s Books, located at 1838 Main St. in Watsonville, for a book signing event. She will be reading experts from “Brave Hearts,” engaging with guests and sharing with them some traditional Irish soda bread a day before St. Patrick’s Day.
“This book was so fulfilling to write,” Mahoney said. “I now feel like I am truly a part of history.”