Sydney Avey

Dynamic Woman — Changing Times

The Family Tree

Mar 3, 2015 | Family, Legacy, Uncategorized, Writing life | 2 comments

family treeCharting a family tree provides a record for future generations, but sketching the leafy branches in story form is far more revealing. At first glance, your tree may appear to be a uniform sample of its species, but move your gaze though its branches and you will likely find broken limbs and odd grafts.

Unless it is a well researched biography (non-fiction), a family saga is an intriguing mix of fact and fiction. To tell a good story, historical fiction writers have to make up what they don’t know.

Careful research can raise facts that help shape the story so that what it lacks in accuracy is compensated by truth. 

What’s in a name?

I am writing about the role black sheep play in a family. The book is based on the adventures of my great grandmother Nellie Belle Scott. Family legend has it that she left her husband and children for a career as the first female court reporter in the Pacific Northwest. At a time in history when women stayed married and stayed in the kitchen, she ran around the circuit providing stenographic services in makeshift courtrooms and amusing conversation to judges and attorneys.

Viewing Nellie through the eyes of my mother and grandmother painted a negative picture. But in researching her girlhood, I stumbled upon an interesting fact. Her younger sister Jessie named her daughter Nellie. Obviously there’s another side to my great grandmother. My job as a novelist is to discover what in Nellie’s character inspired such high regard from those who knew her growing up.

Namesakes and monikers

In one afternoon I traced my family history straight back to Plymouth Colony. I saw how some names were passed down through generations: Francis Carter, son Frank, great granddaughter Frances, who died in infancy. If you are looking to name a baby or a fictional character, check your family tree.

My favorite moniker goes way back in history. I could write a book about a woman named Submit Talman, a misnomer I’m thinking. Pair the Biblical character trait of her first name with the phonetic spelling of her last name — tall man — and you have enough tension and conflict for a lively plot line.

Have a litter of kittens or puppies that need names? Nineteenth century people had large families. My maternal great grandfather was one of ten children. Choice names from that list? Zenas, Enos, and Hiram, fit for a bevy of bulldogs.

Is there an intriguing name in your family tree?
photo credit: Snapped strength via photopin (license)


  1. Mary Stewart Anthony

    Sydney…you’re on the right track…”LITERARY Non-fiction is the buzz word and preferred genre these days. Go for it!!


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