nypl-digitalcollections-ba309cea-94f2-4288-e040-e00a18066c61-001-wDigging Deeper into Personal History

Even though I get a lot of inspiration from reading about important people in history, I still find intriguing stories within my own family.  Both sides of my family come from West Virginia, meaning I know a lot of stories about my extended family going back generations and I come from a long line of storytellers.

My dad has enough hilarious tales about what he did as a kid in the 1940’s and ’50’s to make at least a trilogy.  My maternal grandfather told all kinds of stories about growing up on a farm with seven brothers and sisters in the 1910’s and 1920’s.  I had a great-great-grandfather die in the infamous Civil War prison camp at Andersonville.  If I wrote historical fiction, this would be a story worth researching.  I have a great-grandfather who worked as a carpenter  in Moundsville, West Virginia, beginning in the 1880’s.  He helped support his widowed mother and a sister and her children because the sister’s husband had abandoned them.  He finally married, or I wouldn’t be here, when he was 47 years old.  His bride was 19, and they had two children together.

Their marriage was always stirred my curiosity.  How did they meet?  Had my great-grandfather always wanted to get married but didn’t feel he could because he was already supporting his relatives?  Did finding a wife come as a surprise?  Why did my great-grandmother want to marry someone so much older than she was?  Why did my great-grandfather want to marry someone so much younger?  What did their families think?  Their friends and neighbors?

Even though their story took a place a hundred years ago, their storyline is so good it can be translated to any time.  Placing it in a modern context would give the characters different reasons for getting married.  Such a May-December marriage would also be viewed differently by family and friends.  There is so much to work with here.  But I wouldn’t want to use my great-grandparents’s names and exact situation and fictionalize it.  Since I didn’t know them, I wouldn’t like to put words in their mouths and misrepresent them.

So ask grandparent, parents, any relatives for family stories.  Not only will you get great writing ideas, but you will gain a connection to your family’s past that makes your family unique.