Ancestry and Perspective

Writing Fiction Based on Historical Fact

These days I’m writing stories based on my family history. I recently was looking thoughts about that activcity and resorted to the writing of English philosopher Bertrand Russell. He’s one of my best go-to guy for insights.  He said:

“Through unnumbered generations, the forgotten sons have worshiped at the tombs of the forgotten fathers.”

Those of us who work on family histories are involved in tackling that challenge: by recording names, identifying family relationships and seeking stories and identities that go with them, attempting to go further and further back into time and still be reasonably accurate.

Were some of your ancestors kings, or queens, or Vikings? Were some of your ancestors’ slaves? Are you descended from Native Americans? Were your ancestors pioneers? I can with some confidence say “yes” to each of those questions, for my family. It’s very likely that you can, too. One of the wonderful things about history is the huge number of people who have contributed to each of our beings.

How can we know them? Did they fight in this war or that war? What side were they on? What were they like? Who did they love, and who did they hate? And why? What were their stories?

What were their stories? This moves you into the enchanting realm of creating historical fiction. And, what fun that is! To take a snippet of information about someone from the past and reconstruct the world they probably lived in is exciting and gratifying. It takes research and imagination and considerable work, but is very rewarding.

But, be sure in your notes on any story, that you make it clear when characters or situations are fictional. We really don’t want to re-write history!

Knowing what your ancestors were can help you better understand people, and so, better understand who you are. Consider learning the history of your family. Look at it both cynically and also with love. Try to imagine, try to learn who they were. And, keep that information. You will be giving yourself, your children, and their children a gift.

One last line by Bertrand Russell: “History is valuable, to begin with, because it is true.” Keep it true.

About Ancestry and Perspective

In one of my stories, a queen who is trying to come to terms with  her tempestuous life observes, “No matter what you hear, who your ancestors were is not as important as who you are.”

Keeping that truth in mind, it still is nice to know a bit about your family’s background. With the Internet at our fingertips, this has become an interesting, rewarding and often enlightening process. There is so much information available.

And, as you learn about your ancestors, save and tell their stories. They can mean a lot to your children and their children.

…people always say… “But, I won’t find that I have interesting ancestors.”

Two things about that concern: 1) you probably will (see the item below), and 2) everyone is interesting at some point or the other: it’s all in the perspective you use. Look around at your family, and see!

Are you descended from Charlemagne?

If you have any European family background, you probably are. Below is the web address of a very interesting article which offers a insight into the spread and depth of ancestral lines.