Thursday, 16 November 2017

Inventing Family History

For ‘Irish Inheritance’, the first book in my 'Mist Na Mara' series, I needed to invent some family history for my American hero and English heroine. They have jointly inherited a house on the west coast of Ireland, but neither of them has ever heard of the Irish woman who has bequeathed it to them. This leads them into an intriguing, and sometimes puzzling, journey into their individual family histories, until they eventually unravel the tale of a 19th century love affair.

Sorting out this family history was fascinating for me too! I’ve done quite a lot of research into my own family history, so at least I was aware of the resources that are available online and in other places.

What I didn’t know before I started was that only the 1901 and 1911 Irish censuses are available. The census records for 1861-1891 were pulped, by government order, during the 1st World War, and the earlier records from 1821 to 1851 were destroyed by a fire at the Public Record Office in 1922.

This actually worked to my advantage, as it meant my characters couldn’t find out where their ancestors were living before 1901. The census records did help me, though, to see what names were popular in the early 20th century, and also to find out what streets and houses existed at that time in the Irish town of Clifden in County Galway.

Coincidentally, most of the USA 1890 census was destroyed by a fire at the Commerce Building in Washington DC in 1921. Again, this proved very convenient for me – although it must be so frustrating for American researchers!

My own research came in useful, too, when my heroine asks someone to look up information about her great-grandmother, because the 1911 census does not shown the maiden name of a wife. The heroine needs to know this, and I could easily imagine her researcher trawling through the marriage records to find one that seemed to be the right one. I say ‘seemed’ because in family history research, we can’t always assume that something that looks right actually is the correct record.

Another ‘headache’ in creating an imaginary family tree was getting ages right. I couldn’t have someone getting married when they were 12, or a woman having a child when she was in her 70s!

When I needed one couple to die relatively young, I had to search for plausible reasons for this, which was where my knowledge of history came in useful. The Spanish flu epidemic at the end of World War 1 fitted the bill perfectly, and so did the evacuation from Dunkirk in 1940.

I must have drawn and re-drawn the ‘family tree’ a dozen or more times before I eventually decided it worked - and now I'm very glad I kept it, because in my 5th novel in the series, I'm re-visiting the family, and adding another strand to it. Watch this space! 

Irish Inheritance
English actress Jenna Sutton and American artist Guy Sinclair first meet when they jointly inherit a house on the west coast of Ireland. Curious about their unknown benefactress and why they are considered 'family', they discover surprising links to the original owners of the house.
They soon unravel an intriguing tale of a 19th century love affair. At the same time, their mutual attraction grows, despite personal reasons for not wanting romantic involvements at this point in their lives.
A local property agent appears to have her own agenda concerning the house while other events pull Jenna and Guy back to separate lives in London and America. Friction builds over their decision about the house and its contents.
Will their Irish inheritance eventually bring them together - or drive them apart? 

Available as an ebook from all major distributors - click here


  1. I loved this book and your research shone through. Looking forward to number five!

    1. Thanks, Carol. I feel like I know the Keating family even better than I know my own now!

  2. Very interesting info about lost records. my sister was an amazing genealogist and managed to discover all kinds of info about our predecessors.

    1. I did a lot of my own family history about 15 years ago, and got back quite a long way with some branches, but only about 150 years with others. Thanks for visiting, Sherry!

  3. Creating backgrounds for our characters is always interesting. I'm constantly making charts especially for the age thing.

    1. The age thing can trip you up very easily, can't it? :-)