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Friday, December 20, 2013

Ancestry, part 2

This is my follow-up of last Friday’s post, where I determined that I would relate a few stories about my family that help inspire my WIP, The Alice Quest, a novel that explores people’s connection to their ancestors.

my great-grandparents

I know the most about my maternal grandmother’s family, since I had the privilege of writing a mini-biography for my grandma and her children. These ancestors lived in Chicago since they emigrated from Friesland, The Netherlands. Dutch ancestry factors into The Alice Quest via main character Amy Brown’s great-grandfather. Her grandparents live in Holland, MI, a lovely historical town I am somewhat familiar with. It sounds like a pleasant place to live, especially if you have Dutch ancestry! There is an event in May called the Tulip Festival that centers around Holland’s fields of tulips … though I’ve never seen it myself, I’ve heard it’s spectacular. I wish Amy’s story could have started in May, because I would love to see her at the festival which she never misses, but (you writers know how it goes) the story has to start in June.

Chicago shows up in The Alice Quest, and the lives of my ancestors who settled there filter in through that arena as well. Alice Prescott, Amy’s great-great-grandmother’s sister, was born and raised in a Chicago suburb from 1886-1906; none of the family ever knew what happened to her after a fateful summer day in 1906. Although Alice lived on the opposite side of the city from the Dutch communities my ancestors inhabited, I like the association. To me, Chicago is an ancestral city and I feel a connection to it like no other metropolis, so it fits my novel about ancestry like a glove.

My grandmother saved postcards from the first years of the 1900s with relatives’ handwriting on them. The mental image of their faint cursive was with me as I pictured Alice’s diary in The Alice Quest. I knew that there were streetcars in Chicago because a sister of my great-grandmother’s was killed in a streetcar accident in 1914, and therefore a mention of the potential dangers of streetcars finds its way into my writing. There may be a place, also, for mentioning the Pullman cars, Chicago-created luxury train cars to which my great-great-grandfather contributed his skill of marquetry, the art of making inlaid wood designs. 

Leaving my maternal family and long-ago stories, I’ve found a bit of inspiration from my dad’s brother’s house, a Victorian dwelling that I got to visit this past summer. It’s full of lovely antiques, including a phonograph that played a 1905 record for us. The history of the house and its treasures fascinated me to no end, and thus, in The Alice Quest, a Victorian mansion emerges, potentially significant to the plot of the mystery.

And as I go along building my novel, no doubt I’ll find more materials in my family’s history. Have you ever mined your family history for inspiration for your writing or even your life in general?

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