Imagine how exciting it would feel to discover that many years after you’d written a historically based series of novels that several of the people you’d written about were your very own ancestors.
For weeks after I saw the movie Braveheart in 1995, my thoughts kept drifting back to two of the characters: Robert the Bruce, the eventual King of Scots, and Isabella of France, the wife of Edward II, who later became the King of England. I couldn’t stop thinking about them and wondering about their role in history. I didn’t know why Isabella and Robert were more fascinating to me than any other historical figures. They just were. They became like an itch I had to scratch. I had to write about them.
I had no clue then what an ambitious undertaking that was going to be – or how many hours in my day and years of my life it would eventually consume. I became obsessed with research, taking enough notes to write a doctoral dissertation. I even went so far as to visit England and Scotland on two different occasions.
And on odd thing happened to me on those trips. Several times, I would stop, look around me, and get this strange sense that I’d been there before. Like I knew this place, these hills, this castle, that road in the distance.
After my books came out on Amazon, readers began to ask if I was descended from any of the people I’d written about. I honestly didn’t know. I had a family tree on paper that went back to the 1700’s, when some of my mother’s family came to America, but that was it. There were some Gordons in it, who I knew were Scottish.
It took me awhile to get around to checking further. I began to research my ancestry online, tracing each branch back as far as I could – and hitting a lot of dead ends. Sometimes the records just weren’t there, or they’d been lost along the way. So I’d dabble in the genealogy in my spare time, not really expecting to find anything notable.
Then one day, I traced a Scottish family branch all the way back to Robert the Bruce. It was absolutely surreal. It made me feel like all those years of writing in obscurity were worth it. I kept digging and eventually discovered another line that traced back to English roots. My jaw hit the ground when Edward III, son of Edward II and Queen Isabella, turned up. Hah. I did have royal blood after all.
I’ve since had a lot of readers e-mail me to tell me that they, too, are descended from the characters in my books and that reading about them brought special meaning to their own ancestry. It thrills me to know that my stories have inspired others to investigate their own ancestry. I still find it hard to believe that long after I’d written about Isabella and her contemporaries that many of them were actually my ancestors. Maybe there was a reason I felt called to write their story after all?