Find the details of people’s lives, including specific ancestors, in records of the time.
Pinch time! After this posting, I retire for one month to work on the upcoming publication of The Scattering of Stone. Taking a book to publication takes time, and the time is near (exact date not yet known). I just received the completed edits for Scattering, my multi-period American historical fiction novel set in Pennsylvania and Ohio at the end of the eighteenth century. Editing takes careful, line-by-line, word-by-word attention, so I’ll be (happily) busy for a while.
Included in the month hiatus is a trip to New England to research my third book set in 1775-1778, Bennington, Vermont. (And, yes, it’s a pleasure trip, too.) I’ll write about my adventures when I return.
But, for now, let’s talk research! Namely, out-of-print books on line! Genealogy, history, or historical fiction researchers alike, this is an amazing tool. If you’ve read my blog, you’ve heard it me say it before, but REALLY—.
Here’s one more example: the details of the ill will, distrust, fear, and chaos in the midst of war. The document? The Records of the Council of Safety and Governor and Council of the State of Vermont, Vol. I edited by E.P. Walton, Montpelier: Steam Press, 1873. (The bold in these quotes is mine.)
Ill will? Or what do you do with a strong-willed woman?
Arlington, 28 May 1778 “Whereas it has been represented to this Council that the wife of Jeremiah French late of Manchester (now in armes with the Enemy) is very turbulent & Troublesome where she now is, & refuses to obey orders…You are hereby Commanded to Take said Woman and her children…& Transport them to Head-quarters at Rutland & there diliver them to the commanding officer who will order a party of the men…[so] she can go to the enemy in order to git to her husband…” Records, pg. 260
Distrust? September 1777 (after the Battle of Bennington) through early 1778 the council recorded entry after entry dealing with local “enemies” who sided with England, imposing deportations to enemy lines, fines, confiscation of property, passes of travel, or oaths of allegiance. These matters so encumbered the docket that a March 1778 council resolution gave the majority of these duties to the captains guarding Tory jails. An example:
Vermont Council of Safety, 3d September 1777 “Francis Breakenridge is permitted to Return home, & Remain on his father’s home farm, and if found off to expect 39 Lashes of the Beach Seal, until further orders from this Council.” Records, pg. 155
Fear and chaos?
Vermont Council of Safety, Bennington, 28 July 1777 “Whereas the inhabitants of the northwesterly part of this State have been necessitated to remove their families by the encroachment of the enemy, and some are removed to the states of Massachusetts Bay and Connecticut:…request such men to return and assist in defending this and the United States of America from the ravages of the enemy…” Records, pg. 138
Oh! And an ancestor in the mix!
Bennington, 6 October 1777 “We are informed that Mr. S. Payne of Sunderland has in his Custody one yoke of oxen the Property of this State which we desire youd Take into Custody immediately.” Addressed to Commissioners of Sequestration Records, pg. 186
Go deep! It’s worth the dig!
And look for great blogs like A Writer of History by MK Todd. (Okay, you can include my blog, as well.) I remember reading the Bernard Cornwell quote she used in her most recent post (found here), and I thank her for reminding me of it. I love Bernard Cornwell’s rousing stories! No matter your research, in fiction, the story’s the thing.
“The most important thing, the all important thing, is to get the story right. Write, rewrite, rewrite again, and do not worry about anything except story. It is story, story, story. That is your business. Your job is not to educate readers on the finer points of Elizabethan diplomacy or Napoleonic warfare, your job is to divert and amuse people who have had a hard day at work. What will get you published? Not style, not research, but story. Once the story is right, everything else will follow.” B. Cornwell