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A Pilgrim in the Family

I think I’m addicted to genealogy, specifically that of my family and now my husband’s family. I started researching my father’s family history in order to join the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). I already knew I had a Revolutionary War Minuteman for a fourth great-grandfather from a family history, which made completing the application for DAR membership less daunting than I anticipated. That done, I wanted to learn about his parents beyond their names and dates of death–were they born in Maine (which is where they lived when two of their sons ventured to Groton, VT)?; where are they buried?; where did their parents come from?;–the usual sort of questions you want answers to. But there isn’t much information on Ancestry.com, my main research site.

Not making much progress there, I moved on to the German side of my family. When I realized that I would need my German-speaking mother’s undivided attention for about six weeks to make any headway in that arena, I decided that my husband’s family might be easier to research. We already knew about the Civil War soldier who died at Andersonville Prison but we weren’t aware of the two Revolutionary War soldiers I unearthed.

"Mayflower Harbor" by Hans Holbein the Younger; in the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, England

“Mayflower Harbor” by William Halsall, 1882, Pilgrim Hall Museum, Plymouth, MA

Then–JACKPOT!! I am 99% certain that my husband is a lineal descendant of Governor William Bradford of Plymouth Colony who arrived in New England on the Mayflower. With a Pilgrim in the family, Thanksgiving will never be the same.

My own research brought me to this conclusion and when I ventured out to Wiki Tree, a free genealogy website, there it was, printed boldly on the bottom of my mother-in-law’s record: “Mayflower Descendant (Gov. William Bradford). I immediately sent a text to my three daughters: “SOMEBODY CALL ME! I am hyperventilating.” Soon I was talking to one daughter on my cell phone (left ear) with another daughter on the home phone (right ear). I’d say they were excited as well–but not as much as their mother was. And it’s not even my own family.

"King Henry VIII" by Hans Holbein the Younger, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, England

“King Henry VIII” by Hans Holbein the Younger, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, England

One of my granddaughters was not impressed by the Mayflower connection. Her comment: “I don’t care. I just want to know if I’m a princess.” Hmmm…I think we would know if that were the case but just for fun I went looking for a royal connection. I’m certain I violated all rules of genealogy research when I just clicked away on every link to every father of the next male in the line until I reached a dead end. It just happened to be on Sir Edward Rogers, born in 1498, who served as a courtier to Henry VIII. Yes, that Henry VIII. Sir Edward may not have been a prince but he did hang out with a king! What remains to be determined is if he is a relative.

Real genealogists take their research seriously. Which is what I should be doing with my writing. Is this new hobby of mine just another means of avoiding writing? (That’s a rhetorical and, by now, annoying question. So don’t answer it.) I’m stuck in the saggy middle of my murder mystery–the saggy middle of my outline of the novel, not the actual writing of it. My latest goal is to generate the same enthusiasm for writing this mystery that I have for researching dead ancestors. Wish me luck!

Genre smorgasbord

How do I even dare to refer to myself as a writer when I am still figuring out what genre is calling my name? Six years ago I started in my writing group assuming that I’d write contemporary fiction, or chick lit as the worst case scenario, and when I got really good I’d advance to literary fiction. I needed a writing project so I took the easiest route and continued where I had started over twenty years earlier with my novel, “Anne” (genre to be determined). I was able to produce about 140 pages of a draft so rough you could rip the skin off your fingers just turning the pages.

After reading and critiquing the murder mysteries/cozies created by fellow group members, I decided to write murder mysteries, of which I have accumulated a number of first drafts, partial drafts, and rough outlines. I’m beginning to wonder if I haven’t just fallen under the influence of those members who love to write murder mysteries/cozies and are pretty darn good at it. They get excited over how much of a drug it will take to kill a character and whether his weight and how much he just ate should be manipulated to make it work within the allotted time frame.

Am I that same writer? It’s not looking that way.

What my characters are thinking about is more to my liking. My approach in real life (there is such a thing and it’s always getting in the way of my writing time) is to analyze why people around me do what they do. Or don’t do. Psychological thrillers, maybe?

This week at the first writing group meeting I attended in weeks I floated the idea of writing historical fiction. It’s the genre I currently gravitate to for reading pleasure, particularly World War II and the Revolutionary War novels. (I did mention in an earlier post that I was Betsy Ross in a previous life, right?) I already  have a setting for my first attempt at this genre!

Historical fiction requires research and getting the details correct while you’re making up some of the characters, dialogue, and events. Epiphany: that’s control. And I like being in control. Duh. That’s what writing fiction is all about: creating and manipulating characters and action any way your heart desires. And any fiction genre lets you do that. Except with historical fiction you take control of events that have actually taken place. That’s power.

Meanwhile, I’ve committed to submitting an outline of the murder mystery I’ve started recently, “Patsy’s Posse”. Why? To prove I can complete an outline. To give a murder mystery one more try before I move on. (To what?) Also, I’m attending the New England Crime Bake 2016 in November so I might as well hang in there with murder mysteries until then. I signed up for the Agent & Editor roundtable and I need to produce a decent first page of a manuscript. Let’s hope I can get that far in three months.

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