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Creating a Family Saga - FS6 - “Remember the Ladies”

Updated on November 23, 2017
Homeplace Series profile image

Dr. Bill's first passion is family history. His second is a passion for creating family saga, historical fiction stories that share it.

"Remember the Ladies" she said

Abigail Adams, from a painting by Gilbert Stuart
Abigail Adams, from a painting by Gilbert Stuart | Source


Abigail Adams, in a letter to her husband, John Adams, as he went off to a gathering of the Continental Congress in the earliest days of our nation, said something to the effect of: “Remember the Ladies!” Their marriage was a true partnership, and she felt comfortable in admonishing him to remember the members of the “fairer” sex as he went about writing the laws of the land. It did not all happen then, but we have made strides, over the years… with much left to do. But that is a story for another time, of course.

Women played pivotal roles according to my family history research and also when I write family saga, historical fiction stories based on that research. My life experience is also focused primarily on four strong-willed, dedicated, well-educated women (my wife and three adult daughters); we now call them ‘professional’ women. I will ‘remember the ladies’ for sure. And, they will not be shuttled aside in my family saga stories, either.

In the mid-1990s when my wife and I got serious about doing each of our family history research studies, one of our focuses was to research the women and their family history in each ancestor couple, not just the male lineage, as so often had been done in the past. By doing so, we also knocked down a number of ‘brick-walls’ that others had found in doing our families’ research. Mothers, grandmothers, and aunts play vital roles in raising children. Maternal aunts seem to be especially important. We have each continued with that successful approach. Many good story lines have come from this research, in addition to the good results.

One example was a case where I lost track of a male child in the direct line. He seemed to simply disappear at about eight years old. But, he was around, later, as an adult. Where had he been, what was he doing? In going about doing my ‘routine’ research on a sister of the mother, having found her after much searching of marriage records, there he was, living with his aunt (mother’s sister) and uncle, helping out on their farm. If I’d not have ‘worked’ the maternal line, in detail, I’d never have found those years for that ancestor, unless by pure chance. “Remember the ladies” worked here, and in many other cases.

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Family history research informs stories

A farm field
A farm field

Family Saga stories require both the men and the women

Family saga stories can easily focus on the male members of the family, of course. The Godfather, perhaps, is a prime example. Even there, however, the women were there and played key roles, though certainly were not the primary focus of the stories.

I prefer to place the women in pivotal roles. The novel that started “The Homeplace Saga” series, “Back to the Homeplace,” for example, featured the will of a widow. It was an unconventional ‘video will’ in 1987. It was said that she and her husband developed the concept behind it together, but he was already deceased when we pick up the story, and it was her will that is the focus of the novel.

In going back to the founding of the Homeplace, in 1833, I told the pioneer family stories in such a way as to put the women in, what I see as, their proper place. They worked very hard, right alongside the men, physically and mentally. It may not have always been that way, as you look at your pioneer stories, but that is the way I saw it, and how I portray it in most of my stories.

My current challenge, as I have mentioned elsewhere, is how to best tell the story of the gap from 1876 to the 1930s and then to 1987. I have suggested, in the stories, that Mildred’s grandfather (Mildred of the will in 1987), William, was the family member who consolidated the family farmland after the Civil War and passed it on to his son, Joseph. Joseph, as Mildred’s father, passed it on to Mildred along with the strong dedication to keeping the land all together, in the family, in one piece.

The Ozarks stories continue

Yellow Tulips in the Ozarks
Yellow Tulips in the Ozarks | Source

An alternative approach to consider

That straight forward passing the family farm along the McDonald family lines, however, perhaps oversimplified what was actually going on. This is often the case in family generational transfer situations I have seen, in both research and in real life. So, I have decided to ‘go behind the scenes’ and am trying to develop what was really going on with the motivations of the various family members and learning/creating ‘what really happened.’

Whereas I had originally assumed I would tell William’s story in some way through journals that he kept, the more I probed into how those journals may have come about I found that his mother, Jane (Truesdale) McDonald, may have actually been the most important ‘power in the background’ in this whole story. She was originally created and developed as a strong-willed, intelligent, well-educated woman who was totally devoted to her only son, William. That was a given. Where that carried us, and how far into William’s life, was still a mystery, until recently. Remember, I have a strong tendency to let my characters tell the actual stories, within the framework I have created. That was happening again, for sure, in this storyline.

For personal reasons, I’ve already committed to dropping the idea of William’s story being a future novel. Rather, the story will be developed in another series of short stories, which seems to have become my platform of choice. Therefore, the MTx - McDonald Tales - series of stories has begun. The first four have been centered on Jane, and her husband, Daniel McDonald. Their relationship tells a lot about her. We also begin to see her relationship with William, and the support she gets in that relationship from her husband. This set of stories will return in MT7, after we take two episodes, 5 & 6, for their nephew, Alex.

William McDonald will marry his neighbor, Charlotte Crane, but we do not yet know what their relationship will be like. We only know, for sure, that his mother, Jane, will still be around and very active in their lives. That should be fun. They will have a son, Joseph, who has already been described as ‘not too strong and forceful.’ What will that mean for the story? He will marry, and they will have two daughters. These are three more women to deal with in this family saga. One of these daughters is Mildred, of course. How does it happen that she is the only one who is there to carry on the ‘family tradition’ of the Century Farm?

So, you see how the women in the family largely carry this family saga story. Is this reasonable? What do you think? Will it work? What will happen? We know the outcome; we just don’t know the path the story takes to get there. Stay tuned.

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    • Homeplace Series profile imageAUTHOR

      William Leverne Smith 

      4 years ago from Hollister, MO

      Thank you, so much, MsDora. Your support is so important! ;-)

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      4 years ago from The Caribbean

      I like the message of "Remember the Ladies." As you have discovered much information can be lost if they are ignored. Thanks for sharing how all these great ideas develop in you head. Great success going forward!

    • Homeplace Series profile imageAUTHOR

      William Leverne Smith 

      4 years ago from Hollister, MO


      Just another example of how you have to work harder to get greater rewards, it seems. Thanks for the visit and the comment!! ;-)

    • Homeplace Series profile imageAUTHOR

      William Leverne Smith 

      4 years ago from Hollister, MO

      Bill, Thank you, so much. You certainly have a way of motivating with your comments. Much appreciated! ;-)

    • Homeplace Series profile imageAUTHOR

      William Leverne Smith 

      4 years ago from Hollister, MO

      Sha, I have frankly wondered why, as well, myself. As I read biographies of most founders, it seemed the couples were close. However, when early biographers wrote of them, it came across otherwise. Our early historians did many injustices... this is just one, it seems. ;-)

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 

      4 years ago from Central Florida

      I wholeheartedly agree that when researching the family tree, one needs to trace where the women were. Hard to do sometimes with the name changes.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I'm big on great introductions, and this article has a great introduction. You captured my attention immediately and that is one of the keys to a great article. Well done, Bill.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      4 years ago from Central Florida

      I look forward to it. Women are the backbones of families. They raise the children and stand behind (support) their men. Why women were viewed as inferior is beyond me.

    • Homeplace Series profile imageAUTHOR

      William Leverne Smith 

      4 years ago from Hollister, MO

      Mary, thank you so much, for your great comments and votes! ;-)

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 

      4 years ago from New York

      Of course it will work. Behind every good man, yada yada. In truth, as you have stated, mothers and wives have played a large part in history. For instance, if a man went away to fight a war, who took care of the farm while he was gone?

      Who worked side by side with farmers when they were beginning their legacies?

      I think your premise here is excellent, well founded, and well done!

      Voted up, useful, awesome, and interesting.


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