Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Quest for Saints and Scoundrels

Pat Montella, the protagonist in my Possessed Mystery Series, mentions her gene pool quite a bit. Coming from a huge Italian family, researching her family tree was a survival tactic. I know because I resort to the same tactic when trying to keep straight my 32 first cousins and their families, and at least double that number of second cousins.

The knowledge also comes in handy as a functional database of hereditary health problems. It's an affirmation, too. Looking over my kin and our ancestors, I find good storytellers, musicians, science geeks, and kind, caring people.

Ancestral surprises are a recurring theme in of my Possessed novels. Pat found new branches on her family tree in both By Blood Possessed and Fear Itself. Other series characters like Miss Maggie and the Lees, were enlightened about their ancestors in Hang My Head and Cry and Poison to Purge Melancholy.

That's the intriguing thing about genealogy. Surprises are fairly common because so few of us know much about our families before our grand- or great-grandparents. For a writer, this can also be a great story fodder.

A month ago, I was amazed to learn that my family likely has heredity dwarfism in our DNA. Simply put, it's a pituitary growth deficiency, and sometimes it only affects parts of the body. I always knew we were short--my dad and his brother Charlie, at 5'4", were the tallest of their siblings. Their mother was 4'8". But this may explain why every dentist I've visited in the last 25 years has told me I have tiny teeth. One cousin said she could picture us coming from a race of court jesters. I'm not sure. If our progenitors told jokes as badly as our family does now, they would have been beheaded before they could procreate. Still, I can believe I come from a race of hammy actors who could sing, tell a yarn and do acrobatics.

I've read that amateur genealogists come in two flavors: those searching their family tree for famous or heroic kin, and those looking for scoundrels and black sheep. I'm not sure which I am. I think I'm simply in it for the stories.

If you've explored your family tree, what was your motive?

Elena (short and proud of it)


Anonymous said...

I'd be happy with EITHER a hero or a scoundrel. I've been trying to find my paternal great-grandfather's birthplace and parents for over 30 years, and still haven't been able to break down that brick wall! On my mother's side, where I have more information, they were mostly farmers. I do it (family history) because of a general love of/interest in history - and genealogy makes it personal.

Mary in MN

KH said...

Interesting that you should blog about family trees. My cousin and I just got together on Wednesday to compare our knowledge on family history.
Our motive? Just because we are curious, and want to pass on the stories to our children.
But we ended up with more questions than answers. One great-grandfather, whose parents gave him a second middle name of "Pursemoney" in hopes that he would be wealthy, had four wives. But he might not have been legally married to the fourth. A mystery!
A great-grandmother had lost her parents and two brothers to TB at an early age, was raised by an aunt, and her first husband died before their child was born.
As a writer, I don't really care if I find out all the details, because I never will. But I can imagine the lives of my forebears with what I do know, and get a sense of where I come from.


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