Ancestry is defined as one’s family origins and ethnicity. With the advent of home computers, this process of finding one’s ancestry or self-discovery is now within an individual’s reach thanks to such sites as Ancestry.com. and more recently DNA profiling. Anyone with a keyboard, misplaced enthusiasm and a roaring internet can collect details of dead relatives and occasionally locate a live cousin. But it takes time and patience.
Who are you, really?
If you want detail not just a few generations, you need to scroll through endless electoral rolls, censuses, ship manifests, birth, death and marriage entries, many hand-written not typed. In addition to this frustrating and time-consuming process, you come across many, many dead ends and bum steers wherein you were chasing the wrong great grandparent for weeks or months on end.
This time-consuming hobby does not appeal to me at all. I would rather make up the story and all the dead relatives and cousins. But my older sister is a family tree enthusiast. Just as well, every family needs one member to keep track of us all. And find out who we really are. lol.
My sister, Heather has spent 15 years researching our lot, discovering in the process a lot of fascinating people, places and assorted facts. She calls it going down the rabbit hole. A bit like Alice, you pop down supposedly for a moment and emerge days later wearing cobwebs but having learnt a lot.
Discovering One’s grandparents
That is how big sister, Heather found a little, but unfortunately not everything, about our maternal grandmother, Winifred. Most grannies born in the time of Queen Victoria did predictable things like stay in their hometown, marry and raise a bunch of kids. But not Winnie. No, she, as a young woman, took off from London supposedly alone to hop on a liner bound for Sydney just months after the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. My sister located her name on the ship SS Rangatira manifold and traced her arrival in Sydney six weeks later.
When I read all these fascinating facts that my sister had unearthed, I was like in a ‘wow’ state. I was also on holidays at a beach resort where it rained for two weeks solid. Having finished the books and jig saw, I had brought along ‘just in case’ it rained, I came up with the idea of entertaining myself with a spot of writing.
Becoming a writer (ha-ha)
Having just finished reading Kate Morton’s The Forgotten Garden about a granddaughter exploring her grandmother’s past, I felt inspired to give my Nana a similar treatment.
As most of the research was done by my big sis, I reasoned how hard can it be to write it into some sort of story? Heather’s 70th birthday was looming and what can you get a gal who has a house and wardrobe full of stuff? A story, I decided. She likes stories and this one seemed a cracker, a bit of a mystery and best of all it was true.
Writing a book, unexpectedly
Although I am a math and science teacher, I have had to write a few things in my time. So, I started to write about Winifred one rainy February afternoon in 2019. I only had a school exercise book with me, no computer, so it was a little arduous and scribbly at first. But I kept going for the week despite my husband’s lack of encouragement.
‘You’re writing a book?’ he scoffed.
‘Yep, think so,’ I replied. But really, I was whispering through time.
Undeterred, I scribbled away and when we returned home, I kept writing, this time typing as my hand got sore. I wrote in my spare moments for five whole months, filling in the gaps and silences of Winifred’s story with the magic of fiction. By the time Heather’s birthday came around, I was able to present her with a ‘book’, all wrapped up with a pink satin bow. It had no cover, just numbered typed pages printed off at the local Officeworks for $25.
Publishing a book
She was very surprised but fortunately, delighted and set about reading it in record time. Then she surprised me by sending it off to publishers unbeknown to me and by the time my birthday arrived she presented me with a letter of offer. It was from Austin-Macauley, London (the place most bumbling first-time authors go) for a contract to publish my little book, Whispers Through Time.
The sequel, Time, Heal my Heart is at the same publisher now awaiting publication this year. In the meantime, I wrote another book, The Last Hotel published March 2020 by Tellwell. But that is another story for another day, found on another of my blogs.
I retired from teaching and now write historical fiction fulltime, whispering through time. You never know what you can do until you try!
Here is a synopsis and book trailer of Whispers through Time for those interested who made it this far.
This historical drama, part true, part fiction, is based on the mysterious lives of the author’s maternal grandparents’, Walter and Winifred, spanning most of the twentieth century.
Encompassing the Boer Wars, the end of the Victorian era and the Titanic tragedy, the characters not only travel onwards through these times but also to the colonial outposts of the British Empire.
As the first book of a trilogy, Whispers Through Time introduces the personalities, dreams and motivations of Winifred and her family. The mysteries that surrounded her life in the past intrigue her real-life grand-daughter, Heady, who tries to unravel them in the present day.
Why did young Winifred leave London alone on a ship to travel to Australia?
Why especially in June 1912, just months after the Titanic tragedy? Where did her brother, Oscar, disappear to without a trace? And what happened to her beautiful younger sister, Francesca, after her tragic love affair?
Time is an ever-present theme that waxes and wanes like a tide throughout lives. There are the what-if moments, the only if moments and the sad reality that past and present generations can never meet, forever separated by time.
Photo source: Joni
Joni Scott is an Australian author with three published novels: Whispers through Time and The Last Hotel and Colour Comes to Tangles. Joni also co-hosts a women’s blog; https://whisperingencouragement.com/ and has her own website; https://joniscottauthor.com.
Thank you, dear reader.