The past two years has been a struggle for me, with losing my husband to pancreatic cancer, the grieving, then my own surgery to remove a tumor growing inside my jawbone, and the post-op healing. Not surprisingly, it flattened out the creative process inside me. Only, my writing comes in circles. The muse benefits from a downtime, yes, but I can only keep it stifled for a spell before the magic rises again and I must let her take wing. So with this New Year upon us, I am feeling that power swell, and the need to get back to writing full time.
When people learn I am an author, one of the invariable questions I am asked is “Where does your inspiration come from?” In many cases, it’s from the past, and from two grandfathers, who loved the ages gone, revered them, and passed that passion on to me. While instilling that hunger for the ancient times, they also taught me ability to empathize with those distant people, to seek out history, to embrace it—the good and the bad—but never forget these were real people, who fought, loved and forged lives, that they were no different from our day-to-day existence. My storytelling craft finds its roots in that oral tradition, harkening back to old bards at fireside, spinning and weaving tales of ladies and knights, legend and lore.
To this aim, I am starting a series of blogs for Prairie Rose Publications that deal with that magical inspiration, and how a writer can find a wealth of material hidden in the distant past—your ancestors. They are not just names and dates, but people with varied and colorful lives that rival any tales made up by an author. I will be sharing a peak at my own family trees, and the amazing men and women I descend from, this shall cover the famous and the infamous, and from kings to pirates! It seems that at every big event in the world’s timeline, there were my ancestors smack in the middle of the turmoil—and sometimes on both sides! Recently, I was doing a family tree for a dear friend, and she laughed, “Your ancestor kicked mine out of Scotland!” I laughed that they had done worse to each other—burning them at the stake or hanging them for being witches, beheadings, back stabbings, and even drowned in a vat of wine (yes, I am kin to that George, Duke of Clarence!). Unlike George, the more fortune of my family used the events to turn matters to their favor, for the rest, it cost them their fortunes, lands and titles — and on several instances — their lives.
When one starts on this journey through time, you will notice a trend by historians to focus on the men—their battles, their marriages, their lands, their sons. I have found branches of family going back to the year one thousand —and beyond, but yet was saddened and dismayed to discover frequently women are barely more than a footnote to a husband or son, listed not by a name, but by daughter of, mother of or wife of labels. So while I will be visiting some of my illustrious male great grandfathers and great-great uncles, I will be paying extra attention to the valiant women who seized the day, worked hard to control their destinies and fortunes, only to be largely forgotten. They deserve more than just a Mrs. in place of their names.
In keeping with reveling in these ancient ancestors, I will also visit customs about deaths, funerals and how people dealt with the passing of their loved ones—or their enemies. I will show you my adventures with Ancestry.com and other websites that can aid you gaining information that you need to trace your own family lines — some of the things to consider in trying to track down your 24th great-grandfathers. I will touch on unusual names for the periods, the aggravation of naming sons and daughters after their names, over and over for generation! Seriously? I have so many Roberts, Williams, James, Iains, Seans and Patricks in my tree that it’s mind-boggling. It gets dizzying with the effort to sort them all out.
So I hope you will join me in this adventure in ancestor stalking, and maybe it will inspire you to research your own family. You might be very surprised what you find.