This is an old blog that I started in 2006. I keep it because it has a lot of historical data and people still come here. As of September 2016, no new updates will be made here. All new blog posts and writing/publishing related news will be posted over on my new site at

Monday, April 21, 2008

Using Family History to Write Fiction

By Jennifer Hudson Taylor 

Every family has a story to tell. And many families have several stories. You don’t need to know what every ancestor looked like, their personalities, all of their customs, or every conversation they ever had. All you need to know is the basics and let your creative imagination devise the rest. It can be a pure fiction story or a novel based on a true story.

What are some of the verbal histories or legends your grandmother or grandfather told you? If you have any older relatives still living, make a point to visit them before they are gone. Each day we lose a part of our oldest generation. Once they are gone, all their memories will go with them unless it is recorded by someone like you.

Not only will you have a novel (maybe several) to write from your time and effort, but you’ll have a rich history you can pass on to future generations of your family. Pay attention to how your elderly relatives talk and make note of it for dialogue.

Most people are interested in where their family came from and knowing more, but they don’t know where to start. Others don’t understand the importance of knowing their family history.

For me, the desire to know was always there, but the catalyst that kicked me into gear was when my daughter was born with a life-threatening seizure disorder. Once they had performed every possible test, the hospital then brought in professional genealogists. They wanted to know our family tree, specifically the medical history of any ancestors we could remember as far back as possible. My husband and I stared at each other like two dummies. We didn’t know anything beyond our parents and grandparents.

When I realized that my lack of information could possibly prevent them from discovering a way to help my daughter, guilt rushed through me and I cried for days. I vowed to find out everything I possibly could. I’ve kept that promise. I now have a 3-inch notebook filled with obituaries and death certificates stating how many of my ancestors died. Along with this information is a rich history of stories to be told.

When you discover your family history, you not only learn about facts as to who married whom, and what children they had, but you might find historical court minutes, family Bibles from other relatives, photos as to how they looked and dressed, old journals, and newspaper articles. Back then people didn’t just gossip amongst themselves, they printed gossip, especially in the society columns. You would be amazed at the personal and trivial details they included in newspapers in the name of “news”.

There's a story waiting to be discovered—in your family history.

Find out if you're related to me at Our Carolina Roots



Both sides of my family are HUGE. My paternal grandfather is #5 of 11 (and they all grew up) and my maternal grandmother is youngest of 11, 9 of whom grew up. I was always the grandkid who sat inside with all the great aunts and uncles to listen to the stories. I used to get comments all the time at the plantation that it was so unusual for someone so young to know so much about their family history.

Listening to those stories planted the seed that has grown into my WW2 novel set in Bossier City/Shreveport, Louisiana. My Mimi grew up there, and my hero lives in her house. (she said I could) His mom is heavily based on my Mamaw Wilder, who I never knew. The heroine is heavily based on Mimi and I'm using some of Mimi's reactions to the outbreak of WW2 in Liddy.

I also have family roots in South Carolina, so I have a Revolutionary War idea set there where the heroine is a Stewart and her family is assisting the Swamp Fox. We've never been able to confirm if my Stewart relations were there in 1780, but we do know they were there in 1790. Close enough!

My mom wants to fictionalize Mamaw Wilder's courtship with her husband because he was such a mushy romantic. He wrote her the most beautiful, hilarious love letters. One of my great-great grandfathers was a moonshiner, and yet another one fought in the Civil War, pretended he was dead and never went back to Mississippi and his two sons. We think he got married again somewhere in Virginia but we haven't verified that yet.

There's also a scandalous divorce in 1880's Alabama and a certifiably crazy Native American great-great-grandmother.

So with all these wonderful family stories, why am I so stuck on Russia?


You have a wonderful history you can write stories from. It sounds like you're interested too, or you wouldn't know so much about it.

You ought to go for that SC story. As for Russia, two books that stand out in my mind are Danielle Steele's "Zoya" and Susan May Warren's "Sands of Time". Zoya is a historical and Sands of Time is contemporary, but I loved them both.

Thanks for stopping by.