I love genealogy. It delivers me history and plots all in the one package. The novel that I am working on (in between short stories that is) is the fictionalised story of one of my ancestor couples. Note I said fictionalised. Part of that fictionalisation is name changes. I have many reasons for making the story fiction:
- Except for births, deaths, marriages, and the occasional newspaper report, I don’t really know what happened. I have done a lot of background research, including economic and weather conditions where applicable. And I have other information that makes me think things happened in a certain way – sometimes. At other times, I simply project on my characters happenings that make sense in terms of where they are and their circumstances.
- I don’t know how extended family members, who I don’t even know, feel about me writing the story, particularly given I don’t know that much about what happened to anyone but my direct line really. I do know some information, but the further it gets away from the initial couple, the less I know.
- I want to incorporate historical events, such as the plague in Sydney. I don’t know if they knew anyone who had it or if it impacted on their lives at all. By making the story fiction, I can add events as it makes sense to me.
- I can project emotions that may or may not have existed. All I have to go on is evidence and my gut feeling. And, of course, the generations that I am part of myself. But, in reality, I don’t know if my couple, Tom and Harriett, are positive, kind, cruel – you get where I’m going with this. The same goes for their parents and off-spring. I have, for example, written that Tom’s father is not so nice. All the evidence I have leads me to that conclusion. But, I may be doing a kind and generous man a disservice.
The beauty, however, of using facts that I do know is that I have a general idea where the story has been and where it is going. I know how many children there were, I know where they were born and I know about relevant deaths. I know exactly where they lived most of the time, so I know the areas I need to research and write about. I have even visited a couple of these areas to get a feel for what they are like now at least. But it does help place them in context. I know what they did for a living and I know who served in the armed forces.
I intend writing a few posts about genealogy and how it ties into writing stories. And I may even share some of the short stories I have written based on ancestors but not published yet as an example.