As a genealogist, I often discover occurrences where the facts beg to be more closely examined. Odd circumstances poke at my natural skepticism. Actual recorded facts, or the absences thereof, nag at me and I wonder what happened? Why? In order to ease frustration accompanying the realization that some things can never be known, I simply don my fiction writer’s cap and let the process begin, for there is always a story there.
For instance, an old family bible records the deaths of three children, my grandfather’s brothers—all unknown to my parent. At first glance, the dates struck me as peculiar. The family’s third child, Marvin, one and a half years old, died on August 5, 1891. The next year, on August 4, his four-year-old brother, Earl, died. Then, eight years later, again on August 4, a third brother, three-year-old Dallas, died. In each case, according to census records, the mother either was expecting a child, or had one a year old. Now, there’s a story there.
Then, there is the mystery branch of my family tree, as I call them. They were the original grantees for a particular tract of land in 1850, which my direct ancestors with the same surname purchased from new owners forty years later. I can find no link between these two sets of Friddles, a most uncommon surname, although at some point in colonial times, in their mutual state of North Carolina, there must have been one. Was it by coincidence, or by direction, that Friddle families settled the same piece of Texas land decades apart? In either case, there’s a story there.
One ancestor lost his life and fortune while supporting King Charles in England’s Civil war. In 1676, his son was one of three prominent landowners who joined Nathaniel Bacon in that famous Virginian rebellion. After Bacon died suddenly, authorities captured the three. Two of them, including my direct ancestor, were later hanged, their property confiscated. There’s a story there!
Another ancestor came to America alone, as a teenager. He had joined the British Army during the War of 1812 as a drummer boy. The Americans captured him and records say he simply chose to stay in this country, where he later became a naturalized citizen. He never contacted his parents again and an early family historian pondered why. Recently I found the probable answer. I discovered him on a list of British deserters from the War of 1812. No wonder my ancestor failed to stay in touch with his family. The British dealt harshly with deserters, and his own father had been a professional soldier. There’s a story there!
My grandfather spent two weeks in a Mexican jail during the Great Depression. There’s a story there. During WWII, a plane crashed near our house. This fact inspired my short story, Sara’s Secret. My novel, The Velvet Bridge, grew from court records about my husband’s abandonment by his mother. As always, my imagination filled in the blanks with plot and characters supporting the notion driving most of my fiction—without lemons, there can be no lemonade.
As a genealogist, and as a fiction writer, I encourage you to dig into your own fertile history. Uncover your ancestors’ participation in historical events, either directly, or indirectly, both the heroes and the villains. Then, imagine the unknowable. There will be wonderful stories there.