family history, Sutliff

The Missing Years

My WIP has hit a severe road-block. It’s not that I don’t want to write the story (okay, a little part of me does not want to write the story because I’m dealing with some seriously dark and depressing shit here: generational alcoholism is screaming at me to never drink again at this point) but it’s mostly due to the fact that I will tap out a few sentences before I have to refer to my notes or my family tree. Or I stop what I’m doing entirely and begin researching a certain character to discern where exactly that person was at 3:45p on a Monday in February of 1897. Which of course opens up another can of worms when I find myself reading about the life of railroad men in 1906 Sioux City, Iowa and an hour later and I click back to my manuscript with its furiously blinking text cursor mocking me from its still stationary position.

Whoa. Breathe, girl.

The difficult thing for me (as is a difficult pill to swallow for any genealogical researcher) is the missing 1890 census that went up in flames in 1921. Made that much worse because they asked some legit questions questions that I would give a limb or an organ to see. Because we have four kidneys as everyone knows. (Sorry, Justified joke I just couldn’t resist.) Especially the information regarding soldiers when I have one ancestor in particular who I have many, many questions for regarding his military service. But I digress.

With the lacking census record, and a story that spans a lifetime of years (1875-1937) I’m left with nearly twenty years of unanswerable questions, and unfortunately, lacking legitimate sources. And a lot of stuff happened in that decade that I wish I had answers for. Family members left. Family members died. No doubt social standings changed drastically.

Luckily for me,  Jones County, Iowa is top drawer when it comes to genealogical access online. They’ve digitized much of their newspaper collection and it is searchable through the Anamosa Public Library website. However, as much as I appreciate searching newspaper archives, I have to take what they wrote with a grain of salt. Much of the news of the day was biased and emotions are easily discernible, as is which party discussed was given sympathy by the news. (I guess not much has changed in 150 years.) Names are not always spelled correctly. I’ve seen the name change spelling multiple times in a single article which tells me the editor was less than reliable. But, it’s the best I have, and it’s still a great window into day-to-day life.

Still, something’s missing.

When the idea for The Gritty Ones first struck me, I was a good 2+ years deep in research on my third great-grandmother, Mary Malinda Morton, and I was still learning more about her. The first line: “I first met my grandmother in the spring of my mother’s death” kept replaying in my mind until I finally had to write it down to make it stop. Only, it didn’t stop. The words became louder and louder until I realized I needed to listen and record what they said.

That’s what’s been missing with this WIP. That instinctive urge to write. True, the first line of the WIP: “As I fall to the cold, slush covered sidewalk, I think to myself: I deserve to end like this.” came to me in the midst of writing The Gritty Ones (actually came to me while I was in the bath as all great ideas do). I quickly recorded it in a note in my phone for a later date. And while those haunting words haven’t left me, the urgent need to tell the story hasn’t appeared. And I think it’s because, 1. I’m still figuring out what this story is about because 2. I’m still figuring out who these people were. What were the motives behind their actions?

So I’m pressing pause on the writing and returning to the research. I need to know these people inside and out, as much as I possibly can. I’m beginning with the beginning. Creating character profiles for all my major (and probably minor) characters. Beginning with the date they were born, I’m including every little scrap of information I can find before I’ll progress to the next and the next. Here’s hoping the voices return.

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