ASU staffer teams up with siblings to preserve family history in new book

Woman holding book

Michelle Brown-Hollin, director of recruiting for Barrett, The Honors College at Arizona State University, collaborated with her brothers on a book about their family history. Photo courtesy Michelle Brown-Hollin


A small-town Facebook group and the worldwide novel coronavirus led Michelle Brown-Hollin, director of recruiting for Barrett, The Honors College at Arizona State University, to co-author a book about her family’s history in rural Illinois.

Throughout the pandemic, Brown-Hollin, a native of Jonesboro, Illinois, kept up with the goings-on of her hometown and its neighbor Anna, Illinois, on the "You know you’re from Anna-Jonesboro…" Facebook group page. The page is a mix of event announcements, reminiscences of days gone by and historic photos of the small adjacent communities in Union County, Illinois.

In 2020, Brown-Hollin collected images from the "Anna-Jonesboro" page and used the online bookmaking site Shutterfly to compile them into a book that she gave to her brothers, Darryl and Rodney Brown, for Christmas. The title of the photo book was “Where I’m From.”

That book became the inspiration for the Brown siblings to research and write about their family history and lives growing up in southern Illinois.

The fruit of their labor is a book titled “Where We’re From: A Southern Illinois Sojourn,” published this past spring.

The book details the siblings’ roots in a farm family from Jonesboro, a town established in 1818 and the site of the third Lincoln-Douglas debates on Sept. 15, 1858.

Brown-Hollin was the third child, after her two elder brothers. They lived in a farmhouse built in 1900 on a property surrounded by verdant green fields. Her family was the fourth generation to live on the farm that was established in 1889 by her maternal great-grandparents, Joseph and Elizabeth Schaefer.

“My family, the kids and parents, lived upstairs, with our grandparents on the first floor. It is a really beautiful part of the country to be from and I’m glad to have been raised there,” Brown-Hollin said.

Brown-Hollin’s father sold the farm in 2001. The family house still stands in the same picturesque setting and is now home to a family with young children.

Woman and two men posing in a grassy yard in front of a white, two-story house.

Michelle Brown-Hollin and her brothers, Rodney Brown (center) and Darryl Brown, stand in front of the home they lived in as children on their family farm in southern Illinois. Photo courtesy Michelle Brown-Hollin

“It’s currently owned by the daughter of one of my high school friends. I’m so happy people are still there and taking care of it,” Brown-Hollin said.

Brown-Hollin said she is glad to have had the opportunity to collaborate on a book about her family’s history.

“We decided to just sit down and do it, because we realized that once you’re gone, no one will know what you had to say or where you came from,” she said. “It was important, as well, to document the family’s primarily German genealogy for our children, our grandchildren and more.”

Historical and genealogical research organizations in Union County, along with a book in which her mother wrote down family history — including interesting anecdotes, significant dates and events — provided useful information, Brown-Hollin said. 

Two men and a woman smile for a photo.

Michelle Brown-Hollin with her brothers, Rodney Brown (left) and Daryll Brown. Photo courtesy Michelle Brown-Hollin

The book is available for purchase from three locations in Union County. It is not available online.

To purchase a copy, contact any of these organizations:

• P.A.S.T. of Union County Heritage House, in Jonesboro, Illinois. Email or call 618-697-1870.

• The Gathering Place in Anna, Illinois. Email or call 618-833-6525.

• The Union County, IL Historical and Genealogy Society & Museum in Cobden, Illinois. Email or call 618-893-2868.

A portion of the proceeds from book sales will go toward supporting these organizations’ work in researching and preserving Union County’s history.

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