In her research for "American Tapestry: The Story of the Black, White, and Multiracial Ancestors of Michelle Obama," author Rachel Swarns visited Kingston and sought the aid of resident historian Nelly Applin.
The book, which has received media attention from the likes of the Chicago Sun-Times, The New York Times and USA Today, makes direct note of Applin giving recognition for her guidance while visiting Kingston.
"In Georgia, Nelly Margaret Applin and her husband, David, introduced me to Ruth Wheeler Applin and Harold Wise Sr. who knew Ms. Melvina Adolphus and Henry. Nelly, who is a remarkable community historian in her own right, was an ideal guide during my visit to Kingston, Ga.," Swarns writes on page 310 of "American Tapestry."
Swarns, a veteran reporter with The New York Times, sparked Applin's interest in the subject with an October 2009 article briefly summarizing the lineage that would later become "American Tapestry." Her research led her to find more about Melvina Shields, also known as Mattie McGruder. Applin's father-in-law, Emory Adolphus Applin, was second cousin to Shields, who helped raise him.
"I started working on this book about two years ago when that article was in The New York Times. My cousin, Earnestine Young, she's the one that called me and told me about it. When I first told my husband about it, I knew the name Shields, and I asked them, 'Did they realize they might be related?'" Applin said. "I went straight to the courthouse. I asked for her death certificate and they brought it right out and I started from there."
To see her research efforts aid in the making of a nationally recognized book release has meant a lot to Applin, who said it was difficult to put her feelings into words. Applin received an advanced copy last week before the public release and described her excitement while reading the book.
"I'm just excited about it -- very, very excited about it," Applin said. "It brings back memories, good memories.
"I started trying to read from the front and I just got real curious and I started at the back and I come across that part [recognizing Applin's aid]. But they've got a lot in there about my mother-in-law and my cousin Harold Wise -- they talked to both of them. I researched both of them and got both of them to talk to [Swarns]."
Now, the newest leg of Applin's mission is to help lead fundraising efforts for a historical marker in Kingston to compliment a monument being planned by the state. Georgia tourism officials are working on marketing efforts to publicize the ties to Obama's family in Kingston and Clayton County. A dedication ceremony for a similar marker in Clayton County is scheduled for next week with a guest appearance from Swarns. Applin looks forward to holding a ceremony in Kingston as early as this fall.
"Our church and the community will be handling that and setting up an account at SunTrust bank for a memorial for Ms. Melvina Shields," Applin said. "We're going to have a dedication here later in the year. We're raising money for the historical marker to be put in the cemetery and then the state is going to put up a monument."
Donations can be made through Applin's church, Queen's Chapel Methodist, 105 Johnson St. in Kingston. For more information, call 770-336-9433.