My Author Unknown Trails… An Issue of Integrity

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Have you ever heard or read a story on the net and thought, “Now, that’s a great story… I am going to share it on my Facebook page (or on my blog or forward it on to others)?”

I’ve seen it done so many times. I’m embarrassed to say, I’ve done it, too. However, anytime I see “Author Unknown,” I am now immediately suspicious, especially when it’s a good story. With a little bit of time and research, I’ve been able to locate the actual writers associated with the admired story by Author Unknown. With their kindness and permission, I was able to use them in performance.

Here are some of my research results:

“The Cab Ride” by Kent Nerburn, true story

“The Gift” by Reverend Nancy L. Dahlberg, true story

“Merry Christmas From Heaven” (not “My First Christmas in Heaven”) a poem written by John W. Mooney in 1990 to commemorate his mother’s life and passing in 1989 Website: 

“Three Letters From Teddy” (not “The Story of Teddy Stoddard”) by Elizabeth Silance Ballard. This work of fiction was penned by Elizabeth Silance Ballard (N.C.) in 1974 and printed that year in HomeLife magazine, a Baptist publication where it was clearly labeled as fiction and presented as such, not as an account of a real-life personal experience. (from Snopes)

In 1976 the story was reprinted in the Home Life magazine, again, because of numerous requests for the story.

This sweet story has been used in radio broadcasts, books (Chicken Soup For The Soul, 2nd Helping), blogs, performances, there’s even a video of the story on youtube. Ms. Ballard said there were parts of the story that she had experienced in her own personal life and that she had woven into the story. Very common for writers to do this. I do this. However, the story was created by her, and out of her imagination.

Both versions are available on this website

My advice concerning the Author Unknown reality is try to find the real author. If the story sounds too good to be Author Unknown, it probably isn’t an unknown author. Do your research. Find the author and seek permission to use their story.

To research ‘Author Unknowns’ start with the title in a Google search. When I hit a dead-end in the search, or want to confirm the author, I will Google a key phrase in the story. In the case of Kent Nerburn and Mary Dahlberg, I sought contact with the authors by googling their names and found email addresses. They were glad to hear from me, and permission was granted to use their story. Nancy Dahlberg sent me a “postscript” to the story that she later used, as she retold the story each Christmas and her son had become older and she felt she should include this, too. She was kind enough to send me this portion with her original story so that I could tell the whole story. Unfortunately, her version had been altered by people on the internet. Not okay.

As writers and performers, we owe this to the author of the work. We need to build on our integrity as artists and writers. We would never want someone to take our original work and claim it as their own, nor give the impression that it is our original work, by our telling of it. Copyright Laws are copyright laws and require that we state authorship.

If you are going to include a known authors work in a blog, you must seek written permission first. And you know what? It’s usually a “yes.” They may ask that you include their website, too, so that the author can have further communication and provide information about themselves.

Hoping your Author Unknown Trails lead to authors worthy of the credit due them! It did for me.

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