Book profiles early-day Northwest lumber family

A picture here, a postcard there. Emily Wilson's "genealogy box," as she called it, contained valuable tidbits of her family history, but the information came few and far between. "The family history became a jigsaw puzzle," Wilson said. Originally from Aberdeen with roots primarily from Sweden, the Laurelhurst resident had always been curious about her background. This stemmed from visits with her grandmother, who "talked about the importance of family.... I grew up drenched in this history," she said.Over time, she became more and more intrigued by her extensive family history. Wilson began to gather information through many resources including family photos, postcards and business records."My collection began to evolve into an academic mystery deserving a solution," Wilson explains in the preface of her 464-page book, "From Boats to Board Feet: The Wilson Family of the Pacific Coast." A LABOR OF LOVEWilson's book, which includes 1,000 photos, takes the reader on a journey from 1854 to the present. The story begins in Uddevalla, Sweden, and ends in Aberdeen, Portland, Ore., and San Francisco, the three main cities where her ancestors established the Wilson family's shipping and lumbering enterprises. Though the end of the book offers an extensive genealogical look at the Wilson family lineage dating back to 1450, Wilson prefers referring to the book as a "family history," for it not only offers the names, dates and places significant to the Wilson family, it aims to explore the relationships between the family members themselves and their significant relationship to the Pacific Northwest. Praised as "one of the most exhaustive, fascinating documents I've ever read" by John C. Hughes, editor and publisher of the Aberdeen Daily World, the book was a "labor of love," Wilson said with a laugh. "I grew up with these names and faces, but I never knew why they were important to the family." One letter in particular, the "Dear Christina" letter, was written by her grandfather Charles R. Wilson to his only daughter, Christina. In it, "every sentence opened another chapter" of family history, Wilson said, which inspired her to uncover more about her past. More than five years of researching were spent, trips around the world (including Sweden) were made and a great financial commitment proved necessary. With 50 percent of publishing costs covered by donations from the Wilson Brothers Family Foundation, Wilson dove into every aspect of her family history, aiming to give her family the proper historical recognition she believes it deserves.BRINGING ANCESTORS TO LIFEThe book follows the immigration of five siblings to the Pacific Coast of the United States. Adopting the last name Wilson, Fred, the eldest, begins a tow-boating business in Portland. This is only the beginning of Wilson family's entrepreneurial affairs.Brothers Charles and Henry and sister Bertha begin a sawmill and lumber business in Rainier, Ore., and Portland, before expanding their company, the Wilson Bros. & Co., to Aberdeen and eventually San Francisco, as well. Throughout the years, the business goes through both hard times and good, eventually disenfranchising in the years leading up to World War II. Wilson explains that the Wilson Bros. & Co. lumber business is an important part of Pacific Northwest history for many reasons. It helped to rebuild San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake. It was "a major Grays Harbor enterprise from the late 1880s to the early 1900s, and was sparsely documented in the many published volumes on the lumber and shipping industries in the Aberdeen area," Wilson states in her preface. Along with extensively documenting the business, Wilson offers a detailed glimpse into the family's personal life and growth, with stories of the original Wilson siblings and half-siblings and the lives of their children and grandchildren. Many anecdotes from Sweden and the Pacific Northwest bring to life the settings and circumstances of the Wilson family story. In writing the book, Wilson aspired to bring her ancestors to life, giving them a narrative through which the reader can feel a part of their story. CONNECTING WITH FAMILYA graduate of the University of Washington, Wilson had her hands full while writing the book. A wife, mother, student (earning two more degrees from the UW in the early 1990s) and owner of Emily Unlimited, a company specializing in organization, Wilson spent much of her free time traveling, sorting through family archives and putting names to faces and dates to photographs.Her work was not easy. "It was heavy at times and uplifting at times," she said, but she exclaimed how lucky she was to have an extensive family background already at her fingertips and the help of many people along the way. And Wilson made connections with distant relatives in Sweden and California. As for any more family history projects that may be in the works, Wilson chuckled: "After this, I don't know. You have to put the brakes on somewhere."[[In-content Ad]]