Places in History: Sketches of past lives taken from a shared family tree

maryland_dove

The Maryland Dove, a replica of the original 40-ton pinnace “Dove” that accompanied the 400-ton “Ark” across the Atlantic. The original “Dove,” owned by the Calverts, remained in colonial waters for two years after its arrival until 1635, when it vanished at sea while attempting to take furs back to England. Photo by Acroterion via Wikimedia Commons

At the end of 2010, when I accepted an offer to join the curator community on Geni.com, I was in the middle of a personal project to collect history from everywhere I had traveled, and to put it all into a single timeline. I had hoped that I could use this timeline to start writing historical fiction, creating publishable works that someone would want to buy.

I had, at the time, envisioned that someone to be a publishing house, but even when I had started collecting regional histories from various online and offline sources, this centralized world of writers submitting to publishers was already vanishing. The Internet had created a new world where writers could submit works directly to the readers. And frankly, that new reality left me confused for a few years.

All the while that I was sorting out what was happening, I learned more and more about history from a micro-perspective in my role as a curator on Geni. I learned to identify useful research on historical individuals, and to make sense of their positions in more than one family tree. Among my responsibilities as a curator, as I saw them, was to use such research to correct and otherwise render accurate the shared tree on Geni, and to help everyone involved understand what the best available research was saying. Sometimes that meant that I would be the one learning from others (I’m always grateful for the help in picking up on something new, or correcting my own misunderstanding about the past), but at other times it meant sharing something new that others hadn’t seen when first compiling their individual tree. Sometimes that would be something as simple as checking the date when a town was settled, or understanding when a region or colony changed hands.

However, as I went through my study of micro-history as a curator, I still kept in the back of my head the idea that I would someday turn all this research (both mine, and the work of others) into stories. There were real life lessons buried in the many leaves and branches of the world’s shared family tree (the one dictated by reality, of which Geni and others have only so far partially uncovered), and I wanted to bring them to light and show them off.

Of course, one could do that by just delving into the newspapers stories, diaries, and church records that provide the primary sources of the chronicles we build in our own family researches. Those can be quite interesting to the person discovering new facts about their ancestry. However, for many others, the facts take a back seat to the overall story. It is, after all, this story that contains the wisdom that is just waiting to be highlighted.

For that reason, I will be trying to follow in the footsteps of great authors like James Michener and Edward Rutherfurd in creating dramatic tales based on the facts I have uncovered for certain individuals in my own family’s history. Of course, it’s important to me that those facts not be confused with the stories I plan to tell, so I intend on providing with each part and chapter entry a “What we know” section with useful sources that help back up the pieces that are actually known. However, for those who want to be entertained while learning about the histories being treated here, I’ll be posting once a week for the coming weeks. These stories and a presentation of the supporting research will be free.

At some point, after I feel confident of the marketability of the work I’m presenting, I’ll begin to sell novels in e-book format for those who find my writing interesting. If I have enough readers, I’ll continue to produce until that moment in time when I, too, become just another increasingly distant part of my family’s history. (Otherwise, at some point, I’ll have to go out and get a real job, I suppose.)

Please feel free to share links to my free works. The more readers, the better. However, I would ask that family researchers respect the copyright on my creative work. Everything outside the “What We Know” section should be used only with prior permission. And indeed, other than as entertainment, it really isn’t that useful to a real genealogical researcher. The material in the “What We Know” section will be open for anyone’s use, but I would ask that if you excerpt passages I’ve presented, please include my website in your citations (as secondary or tertiary source, whichever is applicable).

In the distant future, I may try to translate my works into other languages. For now, though, I will stick with American English, my native language. (If you’ve a low-cost method of accurately translating works, something better than Google Translate – which is available for free, anyway, to most people – let me know.)

Meanwhile, many thanks for your kind attention to what I have to offer. I know there is a whole world of writers out there, and plenty of different ways to self-educate and be entertained on the Internet. It would be very flattering to me if you chose to spend some of your valuable time with my stories.  – Ben M. Angel

[Link to The Governor’s Son: A Novel about William Calvert of St. Mary’s City]

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