Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Success with my WIP and Next Projects

I feel like I'm back on a roll (please, universe, don't punish me for saying that out loud).  I passed 60,000 words on my current WIP yesterday and am on track to finish it by the end of next week if not sooner. 

I'm not sure if I mentioned this here, but I also signed up for a sign language program at the local university and enrolled in a couple of classes for next fall.  It's a certificate program for people who already have a college degree and is supposed to be intense enough to prepare you for interpreter certification at the end.  I've taken some light sign language classes in the past, so I'm sure I'll really like it.  After suffering a bit of a disability over the last two years, I think doing something to give back is the right thing to do.

And I'm getting excited about my next series. It's historical fiction very loosely based on the lives of my great-grandparents living in Appalachia. I signed up for Ancestry.com to see what I could find.

This is just a sprinkling of the original documents I found:
  • The marriage bond of my great-grandparents.  Yes, bond - it stated the ancestors would be entitled to $1500 if the marriage stuck.  Was there a problem with divorce in the early 1900's?  It's a little confusing. Maybe I read it wrong.
  • The birth and death certificate of my mom's little sister.  The family story is she died of SIDS, and I was under the impression she was about a year old.  She actually was three months old and died of pneumonia.  The death certificate read that it took three to four days before she died. 
  • The WWI military registration for my grandfather's dad.  There was a place on the form where he had to describe himself physically - short, black hair, blue eyes - just like my grandpa. 
  • Lots of census records where names were spelled wrong.  My great-grandpa's name was Jud.  On one of the forms, it was listed as Judson - the next field on the form asked the relationship, son.  The census worker filled out the forms and some of them were better than others at deciphering the Appalachian dialect (serious drawl).  One of Jud's sisters was named Esther - it was listed as Easter, which may be how they pronounced it. 
  • Individuals who were Native American were listed as white.
  • All the families had lots and lots of babies, one after the next.  No one went to college, many didn't finish high school, and some couldn't read. 

I'm thinking the census records aren't necessarily reliable - even last names were spelled wrong.  Interesting to read though.  A lot of my ancestors listed their occupation as farmer.  They did have farms - I have the pictures - but had to work hard to get anything to grow in that region.  They weren't like today's farmers - they were mostly farming to keep their families alive. 

My great-great grandfather's occupation is listed as carpenter, which gels with the family story.  I've been told he was legally blind, although the census document said he wasn't.  Odd what they collected on the forms. 

I'm letting all of it sink in (and plot develop in my mind) and hope to do more research this week - but not today - I need to keep writing and editing my WIP.  Must stay focused.

Have you researched your ancestors? 

42 comments:

  1. My mother recently checked the Census and found many mistakes in our family's history. Don't think it's all that accurate.
    And that's very cool about learning sign language.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. They had good handwriting. My anscestors lived in the hills of Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee. I'm guessing the census people were doing some serious hiking in the hills to get from house to house. Maybe that's a story in itself.

      I am excited about the sign language classes.

      Delete
  2. I've been very lucky in that two of the four g-parents were done by other family members - quite extensively. My dad's family has been traced back to 1600 in Germany. There's still a family homestead there. I asked myself what they were like before that and voila a major ongoing piece of writing about them in the first century AD. The research has come more in the form of archeological and anthropological. I am so nerdy excited about all of it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know what you mean by nerdy-excited. There's Cherokee in all four of my grandparents - like a good percentage although we are all pastey-pale. My ancestors - all of them - apparently evaded the Trail of Tears. My mom, who was raised in the area the Cherokee were extracted from, had no idea there was any kind of effort to move Native Americans out of the Appalachian mountains. I think their stories need to be told. I'm going to be busy writing for the next 5 years for sure.

      Delete
  3. Already it sounds like you've got some great details for a story based on those documents. You could even take advantage of the misinformation and work that into the story if you wanted -- could lead to something interesting! And congrats on passing the 60,000 mark on your other story. I always feel pretty good about things once I get past the 50K point.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks. I feel like I get to celebrate every 5000 words until the end. Unfortunately, my rewards tend to be high in calories.

      Delete
  4. Ooh, best of luck!

    And interesting side note, my dad (Paul Allen) is the founder of Ancestry.com :) Cool, huh? He doesn't work there anymore, but he would absolutely LOVE the idea of getting information there for story ideas. Heck, I love that I idea.

    Sarah Allen
    (my creative writing blog)

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hi Tonja

    A new reader of your blog and follower here! Loved reading your post and all the best with the new project!

    It sounds awesome!

    ReplyDelete
  6. My mother is currently researching our ancestory, and has traced us back to the Tudors. I'm sure there must be a decapitation in there somewhere!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow. Last night (instead of writing), I found the Civil War records of something like a 4x grandfather. Confederate side - I guess I shouldn't be surprised.

      Delete
  7. Wow, that's really great! I haven't done any ancestry research, but I've always wanted to.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I was a little hesitant to sign up. But I did the 14 day trial and found an amazing amount of records just logging in twice.

      Delete
  8. Oh, how fun to look into your history. That is definitely a part of the country that's very colorful. I was lucky enough to have three strands of my family with a grandparental-aged person who looked into their own history (the hard way--letters to relatives, visits to churches and county records offices), but I'd really like to write my grandfather's story eventually (not, probably, until my aunts are gone, so 20 or so years from now)--so this speaks to me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm definitely going to take a road trip this summer. All of my grandparents are from the area where Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee meet, close to the borders.

      Delete
  9. I found tons of info on Ancestry.com one year when I was doing research to make a book for my dad. It is very addictive.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree, it's totally addictive.

      Delete
  10. I also forgot to tell you that it led me to a gravesite only 20 miles from my house where my great-great grandparents were buried. We never knew. I took my dad and when we found it, it was the coolest thing ever.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Your family history is fasinating. I've got a good record of mine handed down by the family. Best of luck with your first novel based on your early family. I'm like you with my latest novel--at about 67,000 words. Must stop blog-hopping and get back to writing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good luck finishing your novel. I'm taking mine a chapter at a time.

      Delete
  12. Lots of family history here, all very interesting. It is amazing how inaccurate the census is!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My grandma's name was Evelyn. A lot of people called her Amy for reasons no one can explain. But apparently her first name was Frances. Government documents, like birth certificates for her kids and her own death certificate and marriage license, list her name differently, some Evelyn, some Frances. None Amy. :)

      Delete
  13. I haven't researched any of my ancestors. I guess I'm just kind of disinterested in my family as a whole. I kind of think that I got dealt the muddy end of a very ugly stick so there's no point in seeing how deep the crap goes.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. *hugs* All you can do is turn it around with the people in your life now. I read somewhere that we have the option to reinvent our lives every day. Definitely work for writers.

      Delete
  14. Yay on finding your momentum, Tonja. My brother has been researching our family, he's a historian. I can join the DAR if I want to. I'm the descendant of someone named Leshur in Pennsylvania. I though my grandmother was born in Wales, but it turns out she wasn't. It's really interesting what can be found out.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The momentum got lost somewhere around Thursday as usual. Oh well. I got far enough to realize most of my ancestors just had really hard lives.

      Delete
  15. oh wow, the documents you have are really interesting. My mum has a whole bunch of anecdotes from the family but that's about it for family research.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I remember my great grandmother telling me about her life, but I was only about ten and don't remember the details. She did teach me how to hand-stitch a quilt, which I can still do. I can't hem pants, but I can sew a quilt. :)

      Delete
  16. I've always really enjoyed researching my family history, and ancestry.com is a great place. Even found some long lost relatives through there!

    Also, I've nominated you for a blog award!

    ReplyDelete
  17. I use to work in the deaf community, so I became pretty fluent, but now I can't remember most of it. :( Good luck with your class. Research is so interesting, but I've never tackled a historical before. As for researching my family history, it would be tough. I'm related to Mafia in Sicily, royalty in white Russia, Lord Nelson from England, sprinkle in some Irish and you've got a total mutt.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. All sides of my family are from roughly the same area in the US. I didn't find where anyone came over on a boat, just one generation before the next trying to have a farm on the side of the mountain to feed themselves, not many going to school, and a lot of babies being born. I definitely have it easy.

      Delete
  18. Oh, it's so nice to be that close to the end!

    I haven't done too much research on my ancestors. I probably should.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So close, and yet so far. I didn't get nearly as much done as I wanted to, but I'm really happy with what I did.

      Delete
  19. Congrats on your WIP success, that's awesome!!! The next story sounds fantastic, I can imagine how fun it must be to research your ancestors like that. I love history in general, and finding family treasures like that is so cool.

    Congrats again and have a great weekend coming up. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Julie. I'm going to try to put my head down and write this weekend. I need a place with no internet connection.

      Delete
  20. I'm impressed that you're learning sign language. Congrats on making so much progress on your WIP! The information about your ancestory definitely sounds like it will unleash lots of story ideas! Julie

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The cool thing about the ancestor research is that whenever I tell my parents what I found - like even just one little thing - they open up with stories they wouldn't have told me otherwise.

      Delete
  21. I'm so happy to hear you are on a new and exciting path! Go you! I can't wait to see what you come up with. Stop reading this and go write!
    Heather

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Stop writing this, and go write your novel!!

      Delete