Thursday, 11 October 2012

The Joys of Research



Trace your Roots aids research in all kinds of ways. Read how it helped author Cathie Dunn when she wrote her novella, Silent Deception.





As a writer of historical novels, conducting research is hugely important. You have to get it right to be believable. I love historical research, browsing books, leaflets and credible websites. But yes, it can also be distracting, and I often end up reading for the rest of the day, jotting down notes.

Apart from a range of history books about England, Scotland and Italy, you’ll find a detailed account about medieval France (en Fran├žais!) as well as several booklets from local historians in Scotland on my bookshelves. These came in very useful when I needed more in-depth information about medieval Normandy and smuggling in Glencoe in the 1700s.

But sometimes, you stumble across a piece of information you haven’t expected. I love it when that happens.

One such example is a detail about marriage laws in the 19th century I stumbled across whilst reading Maureen Vincent-Northam’s detailed guide, Trace Your Roots. I was interested in it as my own roots are so varied, and I wanted to learn more about how to track them. My ancestors came from different places: Germany, blue-blooded French Huguenot, Scotland, Ireland and Sweden. And although Trace Your Roots deals primarily with British ancestry, the tips can be used for searching in other countries as well.

But the guide didn’t just give me plenty of pointers for my personal search - it also provided me with details I discovered would come in handy for the novella I was writing at the time, Silent Deception. You see, whilst it is set in the mid-1860s, the back story is about a young woman being married off in the early 1800s to a man she loathes, all the while she’s in love with a young nobleman. Thanks to this little gem of a book, I discovered that the law on Marriages and Divorces changed in 1857, giving women slightly better chances for obtaining a divorce (though they still had to prove their cases, unlike men!). I dug a little deeper and found some hugely fascinating information.

I was thrilled to include the detail about changed laws, and another about marriage licenses, gained from Trace Your Roots in my novella. In my eyes, this added another layer of historical depth - which is what I love about writing historical novels.

So, if you write historical fiction, be open to any information you spot, however unimportant it may seem at first glance. It might just be the missing piece that binds the storyline together...


Cathie Dunn writes romantic suspense & adventure set in Scotland, England and Normandy. A hobby historian, her focus is on medieval and Jacobite eras. 


She has two historical novels published: Highland Arms, a Scottish romance, and Dark Deceit, the first in The Anarchy Trilogy, a medieval adventure.
Recently, Cathie self-published Silent Deception, a romantic gothic novella set in Victorian Cornwall. All her books are available on Amazon. 


Cathie lives in Scotland with her husband and two cats and currently works on a contemporary romantic suspense set in Idaho, US, and a medieval Scottish romance.

Where to find Cathie:
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Monday, 1 October 2012

Visiting your ancestors


Have you ever visited the places your ancestors came from? This is something I always enjoy doing, even if it’s just walking around the town they once lived in; sometimes I’ve have nothing more to go on – having gleaned this sparse info from an old census. I try to make a point of visiting the parish church, as this is where many important events would have taken place (baptisms, marriages and burials).

If I’m lucky, the census or other documentation will reveal a fuller address which enables me to track down the house, or at least the street where my ancestors’ lived.


A few weeks ago, I took myself off to the lovely Wiltshire town of Chippenham where, according to the 1881 census, my great grandmother was born. At the time the census was taken, Rachel Peace was 14 years old and living with her family in Twerton, Somerset. 

That’s the great thing about consulting these records – they tell you each family members’ birthplace as well as where they were living when the census was taken. And of course, I just had to hunt down the street listed in Twerton where – on 3rd April 1881 at least – my great great grandparents resided with Rachel and their other children. 
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