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Sunday, July 20, 2014

Writing Fiction Based on Facts by Linda Hubalek

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…


  1. There is nothing quite like using your real life and history in fictional stories. Readers enjoy the story, and the writer has the satisfaction f honoring someone they care about. In some cases the writer even gets to kill off, or at least wound someone they don't like in real life. LOL
    You have quite a family history and so lucky to have this picture. Wouldn't it be great if our ancestors kept journals? None of mine did, except my dad and he wrote so cryptically, his diaries lacked the color and humor of his true presence.
    I wish you great success, Linda.

  2. Thanks for the note, Sarah. Sometimes real life gives you great stories that you couldn't think up if you tried. My ancestors have given me "research material" for thirteen books so far.

  3. Linda, this is such an interesting picture. I have a lot of old pictures from my family, and I have based some stories from their lives, as well. Interesting to work with and hopefully, interesting for the reader, too. I didn't know that about holding the Bible if she was pregnant. I learned something new today!

  4. Linda, I love that you are keeping family history alive, even if it is fiction. I sometimes think that if we were to tell family stories folks might not believe us, but if we make it fiction...they are right there believing.

    Thank you for sharing not only your family, but your research as well. I do love research. Doris

  5. Using photos of your ancestors so you can really see who these people were is fascinating to me. I wish I had access to family photos. Sometimes things that happen in real life are stranger than fiction. I wish I would have listened a bit closer to the stories my grandmother used to tell. Those that came before us are the ones who sacrificed so much to mold this country into one of the greatest nations on earth.

  6. Great post, Linda!
    Old photos can really make you think, and wonder.

  7. Thanks everyone. I love looking at our old family portraits-the clothing, what else is in the photos...and if I recognize similar facial features through the generations.
    And then to research and realize this third wife is now in charge of children from three marriages at her husband's death. That's a story I might not have thought up by myself!