Even though I often base my stories on facts or photos that I have found about my ancestors, I still need to use fiction to expand the story line to bring the people and places to life.
Quite often a piece of information will only lead to more questions—which I think is the fun part of researching.
For example, the picture featured with this post is my great-great grandfather John Pieratt and a young woman.
Researching my family tree, John (1817-1868) and his first wife, Deborah (1821-1859) left Kentucky in 1854 to move to the new Territory of Kansas. Their journey was the basis of my book Trail of Thread. They were both listed in the 1850 census of Bath County, Kentucky, but John and his second wife, Nancy (1830-1863) were listed in the 1860 census of Lawrence, Douglas County, Kansas.
Looking at these two people in the photo you see a big age difference between them. That leads me to believe the woman with John was wife number three, Sarah (1846-1914) whom he married in 1865. Notice she is holding a bible in her lap? That gesture was seen in photos of that era if the woman was pregnant.
So, I already know that John lost two wives and was 29 years older than his third wife when this picture was taken, probably in 1866 when Sarah had her first child. Imagine the scenes you could write—and the emotions of not only John or Sarah—but John's children from his first marriage that were older than Sarah.
Add stories from newspaper clippings of Lawrence’s problems during the Bleeding Kansas era and the Civil War (which are featured in my books Thimble of Soil and Stitch of Courage), and it's easy for me to write fictional accounts of what was going on around their area, and the emotions that had to be felt by my family during that time period.
One more look at birth and death dates and I realize Sarah gives birth to her second child two days after John dies from blood poisoning. Oh my! Can you imagine what she went through?!
I can just put myself in Sarah’s place and pour her emotions into my words. Is it fact or fiction? It won't matter to the reader at this point if it's a well written story... because the reader becomes a young mother and widow in 1868…