Sunday, May 22, 2016

Family Trees, Random Old Timey Records, and Historical Fiction

Last week, I came across a post on another blog, The Second Sentence, about how genealogy can help a historical fiction writer. I haven't been particularly inspired to write anything based on my own genealogy, but I know people who have.

In reading ship manifests and censuses over the years, I've come across interesting things in the course of searching for various cousins and ancestors. For example, this weekend, I went back to the Talbot branch of my family to look at something. The Talbots are my grandmother's mother's family. They interest me because the Talbots were, as far as I know, the first of my Irish ancestors to set foot on American soil.

I found a Patrick Talbot born in Ireland in 1855 living on Staten Island in 1915. Hmm, I wondered. Could this be the same Patrick Talbot who is my 3rd great-uncle?

  • I noticed on a New York State Census of 1915 that there was a notation in the last column, something about 1914. Then I noticed that it said that Inmates in an Institution Entered In What Year. Inmates? A prison? Say what? At the top, the census said it was the enumeration of the New York Farm Colony. A quick google later, I learned that the New York City Farm Colony merged with a hospital that treated tubercular patients from 1915. This Patrick Talbot turned out not to be the Patrick Talbot on my family tree; his mother's name was wrong. 

I've been trying to pin down an immigration date for my great-great-grandparents Edward and Annie Talbot for a while now. I think it might be 1890 (their son was born in New Jersey in 1891), but it might've been a few years earlier than that. The US 1890 Census was lost in a fire several years ago, unfortunately. Also, not knowing if they were married in Ireland or in America makes it tricky to search for them, too, because I'm not sure who came over first or if they sailed together or if she came first...

I was searching for a marriage record somewhere. And I found one for an Edward Talbot. In Nagasaki, Japan in 1895.

  • So, clearly not my Edward Talbot--he was living in New Jersey in 1895--but this William Edward Talbot, born in England in the 1870s, married a Kun Mi in Nagasaki, Japan in 1895. According to the marriage certificate, they were both 23 years old, he was from Birmingham, she was from Formosa (Taiwan), and he was a hotel keeper, and they were married in the English Church in Nagasaki in accordance with Christian rites. 

That's a historical fiction waiting to happen. How did they meet? Why did they get married? Did she speak English? Did they stay in Nagasaki? Questions abound, guys.

Some time ago, I remember looking at some clearly well-off British people's census returns from the nineteenth century--the family is listed first, then all the servants--and I was able to imagine how Victoria's family would have been listed on the UK 1891 census, for instance. Apparently those with titles were listed by title in the census forms.

This is Winston Churchill at aged 16 and his mother, Lady Randolph Churchill (Jennie Jerome), in the 1891 UK Census:

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

A Little Writing Help?

Do you ever hit one of those moments while writing and think, "Okay. I know where I'm going. But what's the next step to getting there?"

I have three POVs in my current WIP--Victoria is kind of the main one, but Ursula also gets herself in there and so does Beatrice, Victoria's younger cousin.

I  finished Chapter Nine like this (excerpt below the cut):

It's got a lot of tension--a lot of feels. So then where do I go with Chapter Ten? I began writing a Beatrice scene. Beatrice is 14, so she's at that age where she knows things but doesn't really know things, y'know?

So I'm like, does it give us a break from the high drama of Victoria's parts? Or does it just make the tension in the previous chapter fall flat? Is a tone shift too jarring?

 For some reason, I'm especially neurotic about the basic story structure with this story, so yeah, I'm writing chapter ten the way I started it, but something's nagging me about it.

Yes, I know, I know, it's up to me, what does the story need, blah, blah.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Koh-i-Noor Diamond: Britain in the Victorian Age

There I was, clicking away at chapter nine, when I came to a scene where Victoria learns that her cousin/ex-fiance Conrad is going to auction off some pieces of art and jewelry. The proceeds are going to be used to renovate a derelict part of their old England manor, all so Conrad's bride-to-be, the American heiress Ursula, will feel more at home.

It would be a sweet gesture (you won't catch me describing Conrad as "sweet" very often), if the jewelry didn't actually belong to Victoria's mother.

(This is what I was torturing Victoria with yesterday)

Victoria's Father had several magnificent items made for Mother in India. They weren't the Koh-i-Noor Diamond, but they were glittery and colorful, if her distant memory recalled correctly. Valuable, too. Mother had sent them with her to England for safekeeping. They'd been in the vault here for all that time.
If they were Mother's, then weren't those jewels really hers?

As we all learned in school, Britain had an empire, which reached its zenith under Queen Victoria. During the course of this Empire, the British gained (stole) a lot of their colonies' treasures. India was called the Crown in the Jewel of the British Empire. 

Is that because India produced some mighty gemstones? 

The Koh-i-Noor was presented to Queen Victoria in this setting
The Koh-i-Noor is a large (uncut, it was over a hundred carats), colorless diamond mined in southeastern India, possibly in the 13th century. It belonged to an Indian dynasty, then through warfare, ended up in the possession of other Indian dynasties before Babur, who established the Mughal empire, gained the diamond. His memoirs are considered the first reliable mentions of the Koh-i-Noor.

The stone was placed in a throne, but in 1739, the Shah of Persia invaded and took the stone. When he died, one of his generals had the diamond--this general was the Emir of Afghanistan and his son wore the diamond in a bracelet.

The son was overthrown, but escaped to Lahore with the diamond. In exchange for hospitality, the former emir gave the Koh-i-Noor to Ranjit Singh, founder of the Sikh Empire. When the British acquired the Punjab--the land of the Sikh Empire--it acquired the Koh-i-Noor. The Treaty of Lahore, the treaty that annexed the Sikh Empire to Britain, stated that the diamond was to be given to Queen Victoria.

Duleep Singh
The Koh-i-Noor was presented to her by Duleep Singh, the last Maharajah of the Punjab and son of Ranjit Singh. (Duleep Singh, incidentally, lived in exile in Britain for his adult life. I may blog about him later.) It was presented to Queen Victoria on July 3, 1850.

The Koh-i-Noor was recut and reshaped in 1852. It became part of the Crown Jewels when it was set in Queen Alexandra's coronation crown, then in Queen Mary's coronation crown, then in the Queen Mother's crown in 1937--where it remains, on display in the Tower of London with the rest of the Crown Jewels.

The Koh-i-Noor in Queen Mary's crown

Since then, the governments of India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan have all claimed ownership of the Koh-i-Noor and have demanded and asked and asserted that the British should give it back--but the British say it was acquired legally in a treaty, so there.

Watch John Oliver talk about the Koh-i-Noor here:

Wednesday, May 4, 2016


This post is for IWSG's May posting. The Insecure Writer's Support Group was founded by ninja Alex J. Cavanagh and posts their writerly insecurities out into the world every first Wednesday of the month.

The climax. The turning point. The hinge. The whole point of the story.

For the longest time, I couldn't seem to make my stories get to a satisfying point. I could identify it in other stories, but in mine, they fell flat. Maybe it was because I'm not much of a plotter?

Nope. It's because I wasn't thinking of my stories in terms of conflict. I was just sort of writing, going "la-di-da, this is conflict." It wasn't, obviously, or else the dang story would've actually turned or hinged or whatever you want to call it.

Sometimes I still worry about my plotting abilities. Is the story actually building towards something? Will the pay-off be worth it?