Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Researching (and writing about) Our Ancestors


I was asked, recently, to write a guest post on the blog of fabulous author, Christine Verstraete on one of my main interests, beside writing. While I love sports (I’m a tomboy from waaaaay back), swim, and play a little golf, my first love, after reading and writing of course, is genealogy.

Family Search has become one of my favorite websites. I’ve traced my family tree, on my mother’s side, back to kings and queens in England, France, and Scotland.

I relax by digging up research about my ancestors. Sometimes I relax, too much, and hours have gone by before I know it! My time and interest in family members and stories paid off, however, by sparking a five-book middle-grade series, Cynthia’s Attic.

When I realized a recurring dream I’d had for almost twenty years was about a mysterious attic was in the home of my childhood best friend, Cynthia, the writing, and my search for characters, began. It didn’t take long to realize genealogy could provide some interesting characters.

Like most of us, I had regrets about ignoring my grandparents, and even my parents, when I was young. Their stories about “the good ol’ days” bored me to tears. (I would’ve much rather been outside, playing baseball)

Bess Conrad Bulleit
So, when I came up with the book idea to send Augusta Lee (Gus) and her best friend, Cynthia, back in time to meet their twelve-year-old grandmothers, Bess and Clara, I found the perfect opportunity to honor my ancestors by sharing adventures with them.
Besides my grandmother, I wrote about my dad, my mother, great-grandparents, Charles and Samantha, and even my great-great-grandparents; the best story of all!

As I mentioned above, I had no use, back then, for old family stories; with one exception. According to family legend, my great-great grandfather, Augustus Bulleit, made a living transporting “produce” from his farm in Southern Indiana down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers on a flatboat. He sold his “produce” all the way to New Orleans until, during a fateful trip in 1860, he disappeared. Although some of the “produce”, along with his boat, was recovered, no trace of him, or his remains, was ever found. 
Lots of speculation surrounded his disappearance. Did he simply vanish into the streets of New Orleans to escape the responsibility of providing for five children (four additional children died in infancy) and a wife, Marie Julia, who had a somewhat less than sparkling personality? (See for yourself!)

Or, was he murdered for a boat full of corn and soybeans? That sounded implausible, even when I was ten-year-old!

Ah-ha! Mystery solved years later when we discovered he was actually the maker and transporter of his own rye bourbon. I suppose those who knew the truth thought his image would be tarnished if it was discovered Gramps made and sold booze for a living. These days his reputation is spread far and wide with sales of Bulleit Frontier Bourbon. A couple of decades back a very smart cousin of mine discovered the old recipe and decided to
revive it. Now, it’s one of the leading rye bourbons in the world.


So, what does this have to do with writing, you ask? 
The third book in the Cynthia’s Attic series, Curse of the Bayou, is loosely based on that fateful trip. The two best friends time-travel back to Louisiana to see if they can discover what happened to Augustus, or Beau, as he’s portrayed in the story. Do they find him? Guess you’ll just have to read the book! 
Bottom line is, I wish I’d spent more time “researching” my relatives while they were still alive. Oh, the stories I could’ve written about their childhood, or what they remembered about their parents and grandparents. While I enjoy writing fantasy, I sometimes wonder how exciting the real story could’ve been. Don’t you?





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