Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Using Family History to Create Fiction

My father handed me a pack of letters in 1994. They were letters he’d saved that my grandfather had given him. As I read them, I became fascinated with Sarah Louise Dyer, my great-grandmother. One of the letters came from my great-grandfather and was written in 1864 a month or so before he was captured at Nashville and taken to Maryland as a POW.

That letter sparked my interest in our family history and genealogy. So began a trek to the past that uncovered more and more about my great-grandparents and their families. As I discovered interesting facts and information about Manfred Whiteman and Sarah Dyer, I had to write about them. Using the facts I had and adding my own ideas to fill in the blanks, the story Love Stays True was born.

 My husband and I first visited St. Francisville, Louisiana and Woodville, Mississippi as a vacation in the summer of 1994 a few months after receiving the letters. We spent time in the courthouses in both places and uncovered documents that gave me dates, times, and information about births, deaths, and marriages. Through these documents I began to piece together the relationship between Manfred and Sarah, or Sally as he called her.

My father had two sisters and two brothers, and our families remained fairly close despite my parents’ divorce. With fourteen grandchildren, my grandparents had wonderful family gatherings for us and the cousins became friends until we began our own families and moved to different parts of the state and country. Although we still visited occasionally at family gatherings, we had our own lives and families and didn’t keep in close touch. At our grandmother Mammy’s funeral, we decided we needed to keep better contact with each other.

 We did, and our annual “Cousin Camp” began in the late nineties. I shared with them what I had learned about our family and began a scrapbook of all the documents and pictures I’d found. From the information I had, I wrote the initial story and shared it with my cousins and my two aunts who were still living. They all loved it and were fascinated by all I’d found out about the Whiteman and Dyer families.

 The book circulated in the family for a number of years until I decided to expand it into a novel. After more research and more visits to St. Francisville, I began the book. We submitted it to a number of publishers, but none were interested in another Civil War novel. Finally, we submitted it with two other ideas as a series to my editor who wanted another series from me. She liked it and offered a contract.

Now, in May 2013, that novel will be released as Love Stays True, the first book in the Loves Journey Homeward series. At our annual Cousin Camp a few months ago, we had great fun talking about the book and new information my cousins Tom and Holly had found through a website on ancestry. They are all looking forward to getting their copies of the book.

 Stories are all around us, and the past contains more than we’ll ever be able to write. We’ve already discovered that our grandmother’s family had just as much history and drama in their background as did the Dyer and Whiteman’s. Who knows, there may be a book there, too.
My question for you is: How much do you know about your family history?


Anonymous said...

Thanks for bringing the past into the present and allowing us to look back in time to our heritage. You have done a magnificent job. We all have ancestors and bringing them to life is a challenge you have mastered. I am so sorry I did not make the cousins camp this year and it sounds like you had a memorable time. Thanks again. Love from your little sister, Betty Whiteman Nance, Ft. Worth, TX

Andrea Kuhn Boeshaar said...

Hi, Martha -- my FABRIC OF TIME series is also based on my family history, primarily my Norwegian heritage.

Lena Nelson Dooley said...

I have lots of information on my family history.

The first book of my Minnesota Brother series was loosely based on events in the life of my father's emigrant family.

Crystal Laine said...

I know a lot of my family history and I'm contemplating how to incorporate it into my writing. It is really bothering me. Anyway, I really liked this post and I like hearing, also, how Andrea and Lena used their histories (I have both Norwegian and Minnesota family backgrounds! ) because that's two more examples for me.

I've been scanning a lot of photos from my family, too, so that helps.

Martha W. Rogers said...

Researching family history can be fun, but it can also become time consuming when one bit of info leads to another and so on. I remember your telling me, Andrea, about your Norwegian heritage. My great-great grandfather came from Germany and at Ellis Island they translated his German name of Weissermann to Whiteman.