A Son Suggests, Hey, Let’s Get This All Down on Paper

So I want to talk all about that Scotland trip—about what it was like and what it meant for me and what I thought it meant for the family—but I think there’s just a little bit more table setting that should be done in terms of how we got to this point.

Because this project has a huge prologue. Sure, there’s the 13-year span of genealogical research that dad was doing, the mental and occasionally physical journey that touched on 3-4 continents and who knows how many countries—that’s the obvious one.

But even asking the question about how it all started took awhile. I spent all of last year working through a massive research project on comics and graphic novels, a project that started germinating in 2014 but that I didn’t get serious about until last January. About a third of the way through that project, I realized I wanted to do another big year-long research project with my dad. But I didn’t even bring the idea up for a few months more—until summer 2016—and even then I didn’t really know what we wanted the project to be.

So I told dad that I wanted to do it, that I wanted to do something document all of the research that he was doing on the families, his and my mom’s. And from the beginning, he and I had different ideas about what the project would look like. He wanted to do a project that retold all of these stories, stories that included kidnapped generals and villainous city officials, stories about soldiers dying tragically or experiencing miraculous escapes. He was thinking of something along the lines of historical fiction or creative nonfiction, something that used the tools of dramatic fiction—characters and dialogue, inciting actions and denouements and all the rest of it—but I wasn’t so sure.

Would anybody be interested in all of that stuff? Many of these stories had been told before—was there anything new that we were bringing to the table? And was the fact that these stories all came from one family’s ancestral lines be enough to interest readers, the vast majority of whom we were not related to except in the we’re-all-Lucy’s-kids, we-all-touched-the-black-obelisk-at-the-dawn-of-man kind of way?

So my dad and I talked it out. We had session after session talking about what we wanted, about what we thought readers wanted, about what we were interested in. I had more experience writing, so dad tended to let me lead (a little, anyway), but I could tell he thought that this stuff could be done dramatically. He had an idea in his head of how exciting this stuff was and could be, and he wanted to find a way to communicate that to a reader. He was focused on his experience—the experience of the person doing the research—and how thrilling it was to uncover a link to some unheard-of historical eddy.

But my perspective was different. I was an observer, and for me the research was always interesting, of course, but equally interesting to me was how motivating genealogy research was all of a sudden to all kinds of people, and not just to my dad. Almost as soon as he started, it seemed like people he knew and people he met over the internet were asking for dad’s help in tracking down their own ancestors. Then, at the same time, genealogy was popping up in popular culture with shows like Antiques Roadshow, whose popularity seemed to rely on anecdotes about ancient relatives and the goods they had secreted away in the attic, and Who Do You Think You Are? and Finding Your Roots, two shows which traced celebrities’ ancestral roots. Genealogy wasn’t everywhere—it wasn’t as omnipresent, as, say, superhero media or Frozen characters—but it was visible in a way that felt new to me.

Let’s just start writing, I said to dad. Let’s start and see what happens.