Mining Family History
The lives of our ancestors are a source of inspiration for writers
The television series “Who Do You Think You Are” provides celebrities with the opportunity to explore their ancestry and discover the extraordinary lives of ordinary people. In doing so it provides enlightening insights into history that flesh out the dry bones of the history we were taught in school.
You don’t have to be famous to research your family history, although you will not have access to the resources of a major television production company. Doing so has become a fascination for many people, not least those residents of North America, Australia and New Zealand whose ancestors migrated from the United Kingdom and other parts of Europe.
It is also a great source of inspiration for writers. One such is Rebecca Bryn. Her trilogy “For Their Country’s Good” was inspired by the discovery that, in the nineteenth century, one of her ancestors in her native Northamptonshire was punished for accidentally killing a gamekeeper by being transported to Van Diemen’s Land. The series tells of a young man like him and the adventures of the woman who loved him so much that she pursued him half way around the world, enduring the most appalling hardship as she did so.
The World War I saga “The Dandelion Clock” is based on her grandfather’s service in that war, in both the Dardanelles and Egypt. It features not only the suffering of the soldiers and their horses but the endurance of the women — lovers, mothers, sisters — who waited for them at home.
And now comes yet another family history inspired tale. When Bryn discovered that another ancestor had married his dead wife’s sister, against the teachings of his Church, she felt she had to re-imagine the story. In doing so she has presented her many fans with another encounter with the gritty realities of life for ordinary folk grappling with moral dilemmas against a background of poverty and disease.
So many of the writers of historical fiction set their books in the “big houses” of the Regency and Victorian periods. Such “ordinary folk” as feature in those novels are often depicted as stereotypes — the down-trodden tenant who gets his revenge on the Lord, the hard working artisan who wins the heart of the errant daughter.
Few writers take the trouble to explore the struggles of working men and women. Fewer still can convey both the pain and the joy that accompanies true love and the acts of forgiveness that lasting love entails. Such acts are the beating heart of all of Bryn’s work.
From the evils of Auschwitz in “Touching the Wire” to the redemption of the torturer in the dystopian “Where Hope Dares” and now, with “Kindred and Affinity”, Bryn mines the lives of hard working people and their relationships to provide us with stories that go beyond entertainment and information to make us think about what really matters in our own lives.
History should be about much more than those who died in the effort to make our lives better, or their leaders. It is also about those who survived, not only to tell the tale but to do all those mundane tasks that are at the root of the gradual improvements in our health, housing, working conditions and education. Who knows what emotional turmoil framed their lives? Rebecca Bryn knows. Thanks to her, we can too.
“Kindred and Affinity” is on pre-order at Amazon now. https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07SXD2FB4/