December 15, 2010

Family Histories

I read this morning that they’re doing a new season of Who Do You Think You Are?, the show that traces the family histories of celebrities. I absolutely adored the first season. Come to find out, it originated in Britain from the BBC.

My first thought is that that means there are six full seasons of it out there for me to watch. Waahoooo! I’m absolutely thrilled. I’ve watched one episode of the BBC version so far, the Jeremy Irons episode (on YouTube ~ I'd've gladly purchased the full episodes to stream). Wow. So so good.

I’ve done a lot of research on my own family history. I’m sort of the family historian. I’ve always been interested in history ~ in another life, I would’ve been a historian, I think I’ve mentioned. Something about my love of books and the way history sits heavy upon us, in the American West in particular but I think probably everywhere, whether you’re aware of it or not. What prompted me more than anything to research our history was that we were trying to have kids. Then we had infertility problems, and it made me very sad that I’d done all this research into family lines and my husband and mine would stop with us. Really bothered me. But, things turned out, and we have four-year-old twins.

Such wonderful stories in our history. A horse thief who married while in prison in Iowa and made his way west, first with a store in Kansas City and then supplying ties for the railroad until he settled in northern Wyoming and that’s where my family’s ranch is. A soldier from Indiana in the Civil War ~ there’s a great document where he wills all his worldly goods ~ a set of dresser drawers, a cow, maybe a pan, and other stuff, as I remember ~ to his father-in-law when he re-ups for a second or third time. A woman who was supposed to have had five husbands and had danced at the original Tom Thumb’s wedding. A six-foot-six man who was a crack shot with a rifle who won a cow in a shooting contest who moved from Virginia to Indiana. The captain of a ship, possibly a pirate, off the coast of Virginia. Mayflower ancestors.

But the love of history stays with me, even as I’m not actively doing family history research. In my writing, I have one foot in contemporary fiction and one foot in historical fiction. I’m always trying to figure out why people do what they do, no matter when they lived. Real people are so much more interesting and various than the sanitized versions, and family stories most often turn out to have a grain of truth. My mom passed our family history down to me, and she told me many family stories that some doubted, but it turns out that most of them are true and verifiable.

Questions of the Day: Have you ever researched your family? How has it changed you or your writing?

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