technobabble

the long and short of it is: the website wasn’t cooperating with me for the last three days, so I couldn’t post anything. Now it’s back. Why? I have no idea. I don’t dare look too closely. My theory is that computers are the modern day equivalent of the cantankerous gods of long ago. No sense in trying to figure them out, because they take all their joy in confounding human expectations.
More real stuff soon.

fiction & genealogy & names

This is a letter I got from a reader recently:

I’m thoroughly enjoying your books […] My ancestor William Markham was the first white man to befriend the Mohawks, or so they say in the family. I do know quite a lot about his grandson, Col. Wm Markham III who founded the small town of Rush south of Rochester and who built a lovely home in the area in 1794. I look forward to your new book.

I’m always really pleased when readers find personal connections to the historical context of the books. I do quite a lot of genealogy myself. On my maternal grandfather’s line I have ancestors studded all over the east coast from the earliest days of the Dutch settlements in New Amsterdam — many of the names I use in the novels come out of my family research.

Winifred King Benham (known generally as the witch of Wallingford) was tried three times for witchcraft and was never convicted. She was also my nine-times great grandmother, and someday I will have to write about her.

One of the very best parts of research is the naming of characters. It’s great fun to see if I can get the more outrageous names I run across in newspapers and histories to work for one character or another.

newspapers in research

I have a collection of old newspapers that were published in the places where my stories are set. It’s surprisingly inexpensive to buy (for example) an issue of an Albany or a Boston paper from the year 1814, and they are almost always in very good shape — pages intact, if somewhat fragile.

My favorites are the advertisments, for the hundred different kinds of information they provide. The beginning of Lake in the Clouds uses my recasting of a couple dozen such ads in an attempt to set the stage for various storylines in that novel.

New Brunswick adThis is an ad from a Canadian paper dated 1786 (there was slavery all over the continent, something many people don’t realize) offering a reward for the return of a runaway. The details of clothing the young man was wearing are very useful to me when I’m trying to get a feel for a place and time. Such ads also make the facts of slavery much more vivid and undeniable.

One thing I like to do is to set up little mini-plots that span all the novels, and exist solely within newspaper references. The Mathers brothers and their marital woes are one such plot. This mention from Lake in the Clouds:

HEREBY BE IT KNOWN that Meg Mather, lawful wife of the subscriber, has eloped from her husband in the company of a Frenchman known as Andre Seville. She took with her the subscriber’s infant son, a French Negro slave girl called Marie, and a mantel clock. A reward will be paid for return of the boy, the slave, and the clock, but a husband so maligned by such shameless and sinful behavior is glad to be free, and will give no reward, nor will he allow the wanton back into his home. He therefore warns all persons from trusting her on his account. He will pay no debts of her contracting. Jonah Mathers, Butcher. Boston Post Road.

And from Into the Wilderness:

“Lydia Mathers,” Elizabeth read,

the wife of the subscriber, has eloped from her lawful husband in the company of one Harrison Beauchamp, known gadabout and suspected thief, taking with her a good pewter jug, twenty pound in coin, three silver spoons, a snuff box, the slave girl Eliza and her husband’s good underclothes. By this notice her much injured husband thinks it prudent to forewarn all persons from trusting her on his account, being determined, after such flagrant proof of her bad behavior, to pay no debts of her contracting. I treated her well.
Thy-Will-Be-Done Mathers of Canajoharee.

The Mathers continue in the same vein in Thunder at Twilight. I keep wondering if one of them will show himself more directly, but so far neither Thy-Will-Be-Done nor Jonah has come around a corner to surprise me in mid scene.