Ghosts from the Past

Memorial Day has me thinking about how the past inspires good fiction. Some of my ancestors ended up in Russia and Poland because they were Mennonites—and I assume they traveled to escape persecution, but I’m not sure.

There’s a story in there somewhere. And a good nonfiction story often leads to an even better fictional one.

I have another ancestor who came to Utah by handcart and nearly froze to death along with half her family. Depressing, but heroic too.

Maybe it’s because I live in Utah where pioneers are a bit overdone; maybe it’s because I don’t want to bother doing the research necessary to write historical fiction. But for whatever reason,  it never occurred to me to look to my own family history for novel ideas.

Then I read A Northern Light and Hattie Big Sky. Both are excellent, award-winning books. And both began with the author’s interest being sparked by real stories from their own family’s history. Both made me ask, Why couldn’t I have thought of writing that book??

Probably because my grandmother didn’t homestead in Montana by herself or work at a hotel where a murder happened. But now I’m itching to know just what my ancestors did witness, what amazing feats they did accomplish—and how they felt all along the way.

What incidents in your family’s past would make a good story?

What good books have you read that were inspired by someone digging through Grandma’s journal?

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “Ghosts from the Past

  1. My great great grandfather was an old-school black bag doctor in Buffalo, NY. He had a speaking tube that went into the house from outside that he would shout to patients and ask them about their bowels (among other things). My grandma and her sisters have tons of stories of things that went on around the house. Also, he was the second person in Buffalo to own a car – it didn’t have reverse so there was a manual turn-table in the garage to turn it around.

    • Kim Reid

      Wild! I’ve never even heard of a garage turn-table or a “speaking tube.” Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  2. Jenny

    I found out that a story printed in the Friend was about one of my ancestors. It seems I need to do some family research so I can write those stories! 🙂

  3. I definitely based characters in my book off of family members, but I haven’t thought of doing a book based off of a true story. Good idea! My great-grandpa (a sheriff) was almost run over by a train, and the only way he survived was by holding on to the hot underside of the train. He lifted himself off the track and hung on, burning his hands in the process. That’s pretty cool, right?

    Also, my great-grandma shot her foot off when she was cleaning her hubby’s gun. I don’t know if either of these stories has the staying power for an entire book though…

    • Kim Reid

      Wow! her whole foot?

      And was someone trying to murder your great grandpa by tying him to the track? Or he just got drunk and fell asleep there? 😉