Process

How I Began The Gritty Ones

It’s (hopefully) my last week of rewriting my WIP! (Pause for happy dance!!) So I wanted to take a few moments and share with you the inspiration behind my novel. Although it’s based on the life of my 3x great-grandmother, and many of my other relatives, it is a work a fiction. I’ve kept to the facts and timeline as best as I could and filled in the blanks with my imagination. I placed myself in each characters shoes and made their decisions as I tried to think as they would have, using what happened before and after as a guideline.

I first began researching this branch of my family tree years ago. I was curious about my great-grandmother’s life. Her mother, my 2x great-grandmother, died when my great-grandmother was only six years old. After her mother’s death, my great-grandmother and her siblings were separated and she, along with her younger brother, were sent to live in Idaho. With who, I didn’t yet know. But I was intrigued by the story – how could someone send their children away? What kind of damage would that do to a six year old child?

After I began my research, I soon learned that she had gone to Idaho to live with her father’s sister. Through census records, I was able to place all but one of her siblings with various relatives. But as I went deeper into my tree, I found it wasn’t the first time such a thing had happened.

Enter the second generation. Through this site (the BEST genealogical site in the land!) I was able to learn so much more. My 2x great-grandmother had been born to a man named William Dubois and Mary Morton. At the time of her birth, William was 62. His wife Mary, was 20. Sick right? But in 1880, gross, maybe, but not so uncommon. In 1886, William and Mary divorced (what?! A 40+ age difference doesn’t make a happy marriage?! Who on earth saw that coming?! Only everyone, ever.)

After the divorce, Mary was granted visitation every three months under the supervision of others. Under such strict guidelines, she was forced to do the unthinkable: kidnap her children. However, on the day Mary went to the school for the girls, only one was there. My 2x great-grandmother was home sick, and subsequently, left behind by her mother. Think the abandonment begins there? Because it doesn’t.

Third generation. Mary Morton has been quite the enigma. I have had to traced her line going off very little information. While there were a handful of Morton’s in the Jones County, Iowa area, I had been unable to place her in any of the families. It’s because she too was separated from her family. Her own mother died when she was eight, her father remarried, and within a couple of years, Mary and her siblings had been sent to live with neighboring families.

Through various sources: censuses, newspapers, relatives, I’ve slowly been piecing together Mary’s life these past few years, most of the time working in reverse. And what I’ve found fascinates me. Without giving away too much more of the story, I’ll just say that every aspect, every choice she made in her life made me ask, why? She lived on in my mind even when I wasn’t researching her, and she soon became an obsession. I began to see scenes in my mind, and I just had to write them down. And as I wrote, I began to have more questions, which led to more answers during my research. I would create a story line when I wasn’t sure of the facts, and then find out later that my story line had been nearly accurate. It was eerie, but I loved it. And now, with my last weeks of rewriting to go, I can’t help but feel that I’ve come as close as possible to recording Mary’s life, without actually having her tell the tale. It’s been a fun, wild, sometimes difficult two years, but I know that all the time and energy that I’ve spent making it as good as I possibly can will make it all worth it.

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