Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Historical Fiction: the genre of choice for the genealogist

It was bound to happen sometime this year. I forgot to post on my blog yesterday. I should have these posts scheduled in advance, and in fact that is my end goal. But it just hasn't happened.

I've been listening to an audio book called "Saints" by Orson Scott Card. I love it. It is a historical fiction account of a woman who converts to Mormonism in England and becomes a plural wife of Joseph Smith Jr. If you didn't know this already, Orson Scott Card is a faithful latter-day saint (Mormon), and so am I. This book is unapologetic about polygamy. I am finding it really satisfying to my voyeuristic yearnings to get inside the minds of my ancestors who practiced polygamy.

I don't usually enjoy fiction; at least, I haven't since before I married and had kids. Of course, that's not true, and my husband would find dozens of examples of works of fiction that I have digested in the past five years. I can't think of many right now.

I also don't usually enjoy biography because it's so...plotless. Many times, it's a lot of facts without a story, although this is also another obvious false statement; I devoured the autobiography of Lucy Mack Smith a few months ago. My brother in law pinned it exactly: I love genealogy and family history because I love stories.

This book is a compilation of real personal accounts, Card's interpretation of history, and his own imagination. It is not all true, yet it is truthful. The scenes themselves are plausible, though sometimes a bit melodramatic. But the emotion, faith, and trials conveyed in this story are true. They are valuable to me because I would not be here if it were not for the sacrifices of my polygamist ancestors, who lived this law as a sacrifice and trial of their faith. It's amazing to me how much more I appreciate them now that my indecent voyeurism has been satisfied.

What is not at all satisfied now are my questions about the details of the events in the lives of my own ancestors. I would love to find their journals or letters - something that gets me inside their mind, to know their thoughts.

I only wish such a book of historical fiction were written about my Czech immigrant ancestors! Or the non-immigrants. What was it really like for the people who lived in the 19th century, yet under feudal laws reeking of the 15th? How would it have been to be a Catholic living in Moravia during its time of transition from a predominantly Protestant nobility to a Catholic one? Anyway, there is no "boring" life. Every person, even the farmer who worked all day outside to keep his family from starving, never traveling more than a ~5 mile radius away from his house during his entire life, accomplishing little in the eyes of the world besides leaving behind a large posterity - that story is fascinating to me, and I long for it to be told.

And this is one of the reasons why I do family history: in hopes of piecing together some sort of understanding of those people who created me.

1 comment:

  1. Great post Kate. That same love for story is what drives me to write novels. Maybe someday, with your help, I'll write a novel about our ancestors!