writing historical fiction

In search of history

When we introduce young children to history, we usually begin with the history of their own families and then extend the circle outward through space and time to other families, other localities and other times.

It was for this purpose that I wrote the Family Traditions and Celebrations history unit for readilearn.

As children love to hear stories about themselves and their families, there’s no better way to introduce them to history. Sadly, some of us miss the opportunity of learning our family’s history until it’s too late.

Carrot Ranch flash fiction challenge Keweenaw microhistory

This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story using your choice of microhistory from Keweenaw National Historic Park. Be historical, funny, or flagrantly fictional. Choose a character, time, place, or event. Be as creative as you want in telling the story.

So, our task was to use one of the histories from the Keweenaw National Historic Park website as the basis for a story to be shared in a public reading at Fort Wilkins on 25 July. I’ve interpreted the task to be one of filling the historical gaps with fiction.

The history I chose as the beginning of my story is that of Mary Metesh Plutt, an immigrant from Yugoslavia. Mary had eight children before the age of 38, seven of whom lived until adulthood. The second youngest was Agnes who married at age 20, had one child, and died at age 24. Agnes and her husband did not live in the Keweenaw. They lived in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. When Agnes died, her husband returned her to the Keweenaw to be buried. No further details of the husband or the child were supplied.

My story attempts to fill in a little of that gap, taking up the story of Agnes’s daughter Nette towards the end of her own life. It was assisted by the information and photographs supplied by the Houghton County Historical Society about the Traprock Valley Schoolhouse. Although this isn’t the schoolhouse that Agnes would have attended, it is of the same era in which she would have attended school.

I hope you like my story.

In Search of History

Sorting through her father’s papers, Nette discovered secrets never revealed in life. “Mum” wasn’t mum. Her birth mother died when she was two. Although obviously named Antonette Mary after her maternal grandparents, their stories had never been told. Now, she needed to know. In the old schoolhouse, she traced her mother’s name—Agnes—so long ago carved into the wooden desktop. She’d felt no connection at the cemetery, nor reading the family’s Census record. But when the school bell rang, she shivered as the spirits of children past, her mother, aunts and uncles, joined her for Keweenaw history lessons.

Thank you blog post

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

41 thoughts on “In search of history

  1. Christy B

    Your story and the introduction to it speaks of the curiosity in knowing where we come from. My grandfather was from Yugoslavia so I felt a special connection to the main character in your story xx

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks, D. I never left my mark, probably for two reasons. I would have been in extreme trouble, and I never liked to graffiti anything – especially books, but desks and furniture too. 🙂 Perhaps that says more about me than I’d before realised and probably would care to admit, if I’d thought of the connection before. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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  2. Susan Scott

    Strange how buried secrets come to to life in the oddest ways – I also have a little shiver up my arm as I read this Norah. Thank you –
    I’m planning on sorting already partly ‘sorted’ photographs when down in Plettenberg Bay and putting them into an album for each of my sons, from birth, schools, university, holidays etc. Likewise all those of parents and grandparents, wedding, my own school days, holidays etc … it must be done so that my own history has a record.

    Liked by 2 people

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  3. Anne Goodwin (Annecdotist)

    It certainly brings history alive when it starts on a personal level. I love how Nette feels her connection with the sound of the school bell.
    Interesting how secrets are often uncovered the death of a parent – it’s quite a common device in novels and coincidentally I’m reviewing one such on my blog today.

    Liked by 3 people

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for you kind words, Anne.
      I’ve just read your review. I wonder if parents who keep things secret but don’t destroy all evidence hope that the truth will come out in the end. I think I’ve got a few things to destroy before I go. 🙂

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      Reply
        1. Norah Post author

          I wonder. You’re the psychologist! Could it be that they find it too difficult to face ‘it’ while alive but assume they won’t care after death? Actually, there are probably as many different reasons as there are individuals who do it. Me – I want my stash of writing to be discovered and be famous posthumously. Lol. Not much chance of that. 🙂 Anyway, I’d rather be rich now. 🙂

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  4. petespringerauthor

    I took a look at your excellent unit, Norah, and it would have been the kind of thing I would have used when I was teaching. As a teacher, I’m sure you ran into challenging situations such as how to handle an adopted child with activities such as this.

    We often made Mother’s Day or Father’s Day projects in my class, but then there were those kids who didn’t have a mother or dad in their life (passed away, deadbeat parent, incarcerated, etc.) I encouraged them (but if they refused, I didn’t push it) to think about passing it on to a grandparent, another relative, or special adult in their life.

    Liked by 5 people

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for your comments re the unit and Mother’s and Father’s Day activities, Pete. It’s interested that you comment on adopted children. I don’t remember there ever being an issue. I must not have taught any adopted children. How interesting is that? The blended families were more interesting but there weren’t any really difficult situations. Most people just completed it to the best of their ability and left out anything they didn’t wish to share.
      Like you, I encouraged children to think of others for whom they wished to write a card.

      Liked by 2 people

      Reply
  5. thecontentedcrafter

    I think this challenge is most intriguing Norah. I guess it involves having a bit of practise at research – and then going wherever you want with that. I especially appreciated the mention of the name carved into the desk and the fact it was a sound that carried the spirits of children past to Nette. It’s the unexpected responses that get to us when doing family research I think.

    Liked by 3 people

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for your very thoughtful response, Pauline. I wasn’t sure what I could write for this one, but something about the eight children appealed, and then when I saw the little red school house, I knew that’s where I wanted to go. I don’t think I’ve attempted to write historical fiction before. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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