May 21, 2011

RESEARCH FOR HISTORICAL NOVELS: STARTING WITH FAMILY

Because I love historical novels, particularly those set in Scotland, I decided to try my hand at writing one. At the time I made this decision, I was taking a Viking/Scotland class and remembered something my mother had told me years earlier.

It seems that, although all of us are of Norwegian descent, my maternal grandfather, who emigrated from Norway, had a Scottish name. This intrigued me, so I sent an email to the instructor and eventually learned his name had a Gaelic counterpart. Did this mean that I had long ago ancestors living in Scotland sometime after the year 900? Possibly, as the Vikings invaded Scotland, and other parts of Europe, from 800 to 1000 A.D.

I took as many classes about Scotland as I could and then, when HHRW announced a class about pirates, I eagerly signed up. That turned out to be a blessing. According to legend, there was a lady pirate by the name of Alfhild on one of the Viking pirate longboats. Unfortunately, historians never proved this, as the Vikings believed the written word to be evil and therefore did not have a written language.

Nonetheless, I was delighted with this information. Alfhild, as I happen to know, is a rare name even in Norway. It was also my mother's first name.

So, I began designing my book, starting with the landing of Viking pirates at Orkney and created a main character, Lars, the son of the captain and one who escapes the longboat and makes his new life in Orkney. I also added a lady pirate, though I didn't name her Alfhildl.

When a suggestion was made by an instructor, I tracked down a copy of The Orkneyinga Saga, a book written somewhere around 1258, and read it. It was there I discovered there was an earl by the name of Rongvold, which was my maternal grandfather's given name.

I'm not done researching. Who knows what will turn up next?

I'd love to know if any of you have uncovered interesting facts about your family while researching for a book, or, for tht matter, any unusul facts.

Joan K. Maze

8 comments:

marybelle said...

My Mother over the years has chased up all sort of documents about the family: marriage, birth & death certificates, immigration papers etc. The funniest one is about an ancestor: it states on his death certificate that he was run over by a manure cart ,while drunk, and killed. NOT funny for him I know.

marypres@gmail.com

Caroline Clemmons said...

I love researching family stories and have loosely used some incidents in my novels. My brother and I are writing a book about our father's family and I have done one on my mom and one on my mother-in-law. Lots of fun stories cropped up in my research.

J K Maze said...

Marybelle,

Run over by a manure cart - awful, but funny, yes. I was on a historical board some years ago, gathering information for a centennial, and found on a graveston that a man died of constipation - I think they meant consumption. Yes, Marybelle and Caroline, historical facts are fascinating and can take up all your time.

Thanks for commenting.

Joan

Jannine Gallant said...

I love researching the family tree and giving it a shake every now and then. Just discovered my great-grandmother spent her whole life believing she was born in 1890, when in reality she was born in 1889. You guessed it - her parents' wedding was a month after the real birth date. LOL

Jennifer Ann Coffeen said...

Great post! I love this idea. My husband's first name is Fraser (his mother's maiden name)and we met after I returned from living a year in Scotland! Someday we plan to return and stay in Fraser castle.

writerwellness said...

Family is a great place to find interesting story and poem starters like this opening line from a poem I wrote years ago:
"I come from a long line of liquor lovers and horse thieves.."

M. K. Yarbrough said...

I've only gone back about 300 years, but love doing the research. I've found Civil War and Revolutionary War ancestors. Facinating.

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

How exciting for you. When we found out my great grandfather was the son of the King of Denmark, we all were very excited. When we asked my Mom what she had to contribute to the gene pool, she started a ten year geneology search and came up with some interesting ancestors. She was almost total Scot with a few drops of Irish and English. She went all the way back to the Vikings as well and thought John and Priscilla Alden who came over on the Mayflower were quite wonderful. It's been a fun search. We did learn through King Fredrik VIII we are distant cousins to the royals of England, Sweden, Norway, Greece and Russia as well as Denmark. Grandpa was always embarrassed as in those days being from the wrong side of the blanket was frowned on.