I am a born researcher. When growing up nothing was more entertaining on a hot summer day or a rainy afternoon than grabbing a volume of our encyclopedia and starting at the beginning and finding a subject to study. I remember a time when I spent many days devouring all the information on the Hapsburg dynasty of Austria. I loved their story. It was a subject that led me to our local library to check out books on their reign, had me reading volume after volume of material about their lives, their marriages and their decline. Maximilian Hapsburg was a sort of hero to me in those times. I could see myself writing a fabulous novel with him as the hero. Never did…..but it would have been incredible I’m sure!
When I began to do genealogy research I was fascinated with old documents. With the wills that left plantations to first-born sons, a few dollars to the other sons and usually a bed and a dollar to the daughters. This was not always the case, but often was the case. Occasionally the daughters received a bed and dresser and perhaps a few head of livestock for their dower. I have often wished I could go back to those times for a while, to experience life as they lived, but then I remember the daughters were not as valued a family member as a son.
Old census pages are beautiful as well. The cursive writing of those earlier censuses is impressive with the fancy lettering, almost to the point of looking like calligraphy. As decades passed and handwriting changed, it is also obvious that the census taker was no longer quite as proud of his penmanship….thus making reading these documents much harder to do.
My favorite old documents? I have to admit to two. First, to letters from family members off at war or visiting abroad or visiting distance relatives that tell of everyday occurrences. They related little things, from their birthdays rolling around to how the family was faring health-wise. With consumption, yellow fever and other diseases that had no real treatment in those days…you can imagine the usual outcomes. My second favorite would be legal documents…the wills, the court transcripts, the land lotteries. Such history and at the same time such a glimpse into live in those times long ago.
All of this has just made my interest in history and in telling tales related to those days grow. I love the gallantry, the pageantry, the simplicity and yes, the hardships of our ancestors. I infuse my characters with a touch of the things I’ve learned from my history fetish….and as I write I continue to pull out those old encyclopedias and tap into the wealth of knowledge on the Internet.
Never stop learning and feeding your mind,