Monday, 11 May 2015

Keeping Family History Stories Alive through Fiction - Part H

Keeping Family History Stories Alive through Fiction
Part H
"Dr. Bill" Smith

Do you recognize the Abigail Adams quote, “Remember the Ladies”?

Abigail Adams, from a painting by Gilbert Stuart

As her husband, John Adams, one of the Founding Fathers of the USA, was heading off to meet with the Continental Congress, Abigail Adams famously admonished him, “Remember the Ladies.” The men who served as Founding Fathers, and many of their male counterparts since, had made a habit of ignoring the ladies, as many of you will attest, I’m sure. I mention this for two reasons.

First, in doing our family history research, from our first days of getting serious about it, in the mid-1990s, my wife and I each pledged to ourselves and each other that we would faithfully research the female lines of ancestor couples as thoroughly, or more thoroughly, than the male surname line. At that time, many of the male lines had historically been done already in much more detail. It was harder to research the ladies’ side, by far, because marriage information was not always readily available. Often, only the given name of the female marriage partner was know, if that. Regardless, we were well rewarded for our efforts. Many a brick-wall on the male line, as perceived by others, was overcome by carefully examining the maternal line. Mothers, Grandmothers, and Aunts are crucial to family history research. How is that for stating the obvious!! ;-)

Second, when writing fiction to keep family history stories alive, not surprisingly, telling the ‘ladies’ stories’ is critical to being complete… as well as very interesting. So much so that many, if not most, of the stories I now write focus on the point of view of the women in the family saga, historical fiction series that is my creation.

My first novel, that began the family saga, “Back to the Homeplace,” was based on the concerns of a woman, a widow, of keeping her Century Farm, intact and in the family, on her passing. Her family had originally settled the land in 1833 while the story was taking place in 1987. She had strong feelings for her family and her land. She wanted to be sure her four children carried those same feelings forward to future generations as well. Her unorthodox ‘video will’ set that plan in motion. She was a strong-willed woman at the core of the story.

You may recall that last time, when we were talking about theme, I said the following:
In my “The Homeplace Saga” series of family saga, historical fiction stories, the theme is: “it is critically important to retain the family farm, in one piece, in the family.” It was the theme of the original novel, and that theme runs through all four novels, two other books, and hundreds of short stories that have been written in the series of stories (see: <>).

As the family saga has developed, as I’ve mentioned previously, I went back and reconstructed (created, actually, of course) that 1833 to 1987 time period for the saga. The first part of that period, 1833 to 1876, including the Civil War period, was told in a series of short stories. These were collected into book form as: “The American Centennial at the Homeplace: The Founding (1833-1876).” From the original settlers to the reconstruction of the town and surrounding rural community following the war, the women played key roles as told in the stories collected there. These roles reflect the research my wife and I have discovered as we have done our family history research. The women served not only as mothers and wives, but took on just about every role that men had, but perhaps not as often then as many do now. These are reflected in my family saga stories. You can do the same with your family stories, to keep them alive.

[Each book mentioned is available at]

During the second half of the 1800s, in the stories, it first appeared that a man, William McDonald, the grandfather of the widow in 1987, was primarily responsible for gathering additional lands around the original homestead to create the Century Farm of 1987. However, on closer examination, the story really was that he was strongly influenced by, even guided by, his mother in the entire process. In fact, she had been ‘planning’ this from the time of his birth, along with her husband. But, she was the guiding force. How she did it, and why, represents the core theme of the current set of short stores being created for “The Homeplace Saga” as it is now continuing to develop.

[These short stories are available, at no charge, at:]

What will your family saga look like to keep alive your family history research?

See you next month! I love to read comments, so please leave one or more, including questions. 

Dr. Bill


"Dr. Bill" (Wm. L.) Smith can be found regularly at his genealogy blog, "Dr. Bill Tells Ancestor Stories" <> or his family saga blog, "The Homeplace Saga," <>. He is an original contributor, as The Heritage Tourist, to the "In-DepthGenealogy" blog with a monthly column in the "Going In-Depth" digi-mag. He also writes a monthly post for the Worldwide Genealogy Blog.


  1. You always capture my attention. I so want to write my ancestor's story with historical fiction... ah well it will be awhile. :-)

  2. Thank you, Fran. You will do it. If I may suggest, start writing background pieces on your major characters. Only you will see them. You will enjoy it, and, it will help you think more deeply about your characters, before you actually write stories about them. Hope you will try one or two... ;-)

  3. I can only dream right now of doing something like this. Now, if someone wants to come clean and cook and such, maybe I'll have enough time.

  4. Sounds familiar, Carol. Best wishes. Your time will come! ;-)


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