Archives for researching

Guest Post: Helen J Christmas

Every writer is blessed with an over-active imagination. For Helen J Christmas [below], author of the ‘Same Face Different Place’ series, this led her to researching Britain and its social history. Here, she explains how her research was transformed into fiction. “I have a passion for writing. I have indulged it for most of my life but it wasn’t until 2011, my career as an author really took off. My current series (a combination of romantic suspense and noir fiction) was inspired while walking along the beach with our dog. I was just daydreaming about my life, when a set of characters and stories began to flood through my head. I was born in 1964 and remember the eras of the ‘70s and ‘80s – I thought ‘how great it would be to write an epic story that took the reader on a journey through the decades of Britain!’ My debut novel Beginnings (published in 2012) is the first book of my series ‘Same Face Different Place.’ It is a love story set in the criminal underworld of the 70s and the start of a mystery which rolls across four decades. I am lucky to be gifted with a powerful visual
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Categories: Book Love and On Researching.

Family history: Deceased Online

I grew familiar with churchyards and graveyards when I was working on Ignoring Gravity as Rose Haldane believes her birth mother is dead and so searches amongst the headstones. If Deceased Online had existed when Rose was searching for her birth mother, perhaps she would simply have searched the database online. Deceased Online is the first central database of burial and cremation records in the UK, and records are constantly being added to its database. To read how I researched the graveyard scene in Ignoring Gravity, click here. So I tested the Deceased Online database with a random search for the name of my father. One exact match was found, a gravestone at St Maxentius, Bradshaw, Lancashire. Not my father, and not one of my relatives. Sadly my search went no further as this headstone is not part of the DO contract, so was available to view only by payment with the local authority: £2 to view the single headstone, or £15 to view all 511 headstones at this property. An annual subscription scheme is promised. My second search was for ‘Rose Haldane’. More success here, 36 headstone collections were found for Haldane, various cemeteries, mostly in Scotland, with multiple headstones. The most,
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Categories: Family history research, My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity' and On Researching.

Family history: British Newspaper Archive

The days are gone when researching old newspaper articles meant a trip to a library. Nowadays there is a fantastic online resource for anyone trying to trace lost relatives or researching their family tree. The British Newspaper Archive has almost 11.5 million newspaper pages on its archives from the 1700s onwards, across 473 UK newspaper titles. As part of my research for Ignoring Gravity, I read countless newspaper and magazine articles about adoption, the stories of birth mothers, adoptees and adoptive parents. I tested the BNA database. A random search for ‘Sandra Danby‘ produced three results, none of which were about me. Here are two:- May 6, 1950 Hull Daily Mail [above]: Sandra Danby was a principal performer at a concert in Hessle Town Hall, along with Elsie Meek, Sylvia Cowling and Michael Goforth. I’ve made a note of the name Elsie Meek, inspiration for a character name perhaps?June 19, 1950 Hull Daily Mail [above]: Sandra Danby from Hessle came second in the Haltemprice Fancy Dress Prize Winners ‘Most Attractive’ section, she was dressed as a Dutch girl. First prize was won by Patricia Partington, who dressed as Bo Peep. Next, I searched for ‘Rose Haldane’ and had more success with 13
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Categories: Family history research, My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity' and On Researching.

Adoption reunion: Doing it for love

The fifth season of British television adoption reunion series Long Lost Family included this heartbreaker: a woman who gave up her first-born daughter twice, in order for her to have a better life. Scotland, 1960: Christine Gillard was 16, her father dead, her mother working away, she lived with her 80-year old grandmother in a tenement so small you could walk from one side to the other in four paces. Christine became pregnant. For two years, the two women tried to raise active toddler Marguerite, in this one cramped room. “It was going wrong and I couldn’t put it right,” Christine tells Long Lost Family. “I had a big decision to make, I didn’t want her to go into a home, abandoned, with no hope for the future.” The solution was for Social Services to place Marguerite with a long-term foster family. “I had asked for help and I got it, I thought ‘they’ve got my baby’.” Christine’s life went on, she married and had four more children. But it was not a good marriage. Six years after she had last seen Marguerite, Social Services contacted Christine to say her foster mother had died, and that Christine could have Marguerite back.
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Categories: Adoption, Family history research and On Researching.

I agree with… Frederick Forsyth

Frederick Forsyth “… [all authors are only half in the room] the other half is detached, watching, taking notes… I’ve always preferred not to join in, so I joined nothing… I used my separateness.” [in an interview with ‘The Bookseller’ magazine, July 17, 2015] Frederick Forsyth, author of The Day of the Jackal – one of my father’s favourite books and movies [see his old Corgi edition above], and therefore a large part of my childhood – has always stood apart. I understand what he says about observation, I do it too though I don’t think it’s a conscious thing. I don’t stand in a corner with my notebook out. But some time later, when I am trying to recall a characteristic, a description or a piece of dialogue, something I have seen somewhere or overheard will fall into place. All novelists have this ability, I believe. And journalists: as a trainee journalist I was told I must develop two things: a head for alcohol so I could keep my head when those around were losing theirs, so I could remember what was said in the morning; and secondly, a dirty mind, in order to notice all the unintended double entres
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Categories: Book Love, On Researching and On Writing.

How Kate Atkinson writes

Kate Atkinson: “This is a novel, not a polemic [and I am no historian] and I have accordingly left the doubts and ambiguities for the characters and the text to voice.” [in Author’s Note, in the Doubleday paperback edition of ‘A God in Ruins’] In her Author’s Note at the back of A God in Ruins [how I much prefer to read these texts after I have read the novel, not before], Kate Atkinson explains that she decided to write a novel about the Second World War, “I rather grandiosely believed that I could somehow cover the whole conflict in less than half the length of War and Peace”. Of course she couldn’t and so she settled on the London Blitz in Life After Life, and the strategic bombing campaign against Germany in its companion novel A God in Ruins. It is the difficulties of bombing that she leaves in the mouths and minds of her characters. She writes of the perils for the novelist of writing a story based on true events. “There is nothing that happens during the chapters set during the war in A God in Ruins that isn’t in some way based on a real-life incident
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Categories: Book Love, On Researching and On Writing.

Family history: 20 top tips to find your missing ancestors

You’ve decided to trace your family tree, back through the generations. Easy, it’s just a case of trawling through the Birth, Marriages and Deaths records, right? Sadly it’s not always that straightforward… but there are ways to track down missing ancestors. These are the 20 Top Tips by Who Do You Think You Are?’s TV show genealogist Laura Berry. If you have an ancestor who is missing from official records, there are numerous possible reasons for their absence. 1 Ancestors may have used middle names. I don’t have a middle name but Adeline V Stephen, who was christened in 1882, was known by her second name Virginia. She became the writer Virginia Woolf. 2 Check the mother’s maiden name, not everyone was born in wedlock. 3 If you are really stuck, you can post a question on a genealogy forum such as the WDYTYA Forum. Often other forum users may be able to help. 4 Perhaps your ancestor simply moved. Try searching in a neighbouring area. 5 Names were often misspelt, and the mistake is continued down the line. 6 If you are drawing a blank at your favourite genealogy website, try using a different website which may have a slightly different
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Categories: Book Love, Family history research and On Researching.

Family history: using maps

Understanding your lost relatives is a little easier when you can place them geographically. Today there are huge online resources of historical maps which make this easier. If you are searching for someone today and you have an address, the best place to start is the simplest: Google Maps. Just type in a place name and map focuses on the area you want, making it easy to find addresses from birth certificates, for example. When you are dealing with an area of the country with which you are unfamiliar, using GoogleMaps allows you to familiarise yourself with the area and perhaps connect up a couple of clues which previously did not make sense. For example, birth certificates or baptism records with addresses which do not tally with other clues you have. Looking at the area on a map can often clarify the options. Britain From Above allows you to look down on early to mid-20th century homes, from the skies. For example, I grew up on the North Yorkshire coast near Filey, below are two photographs from the area. Top is a 1925 photograph showing Carr Naze and Filey Brigg; the pic below shows Crescent Hill and Foreshore Road in Filey in 1932.
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Categories: Book Love, Family history research and On Researching.

Long Lost Family: Denise’s story

This adoption story from the 1960s belongs to a teenager whose father died when she was 15. Missing her father and growing apart from her mother who was distracted by a new husband, she sought love and attention elsewhere. She went clubbing, and at 16 was pregnant. This is Denise Temple‘s story from the Long Lost Family television programme. The family agreed the child would be given up for adoption. But Denise remembers looking at her new born baby, Deborah: “I thought I’d die for this child, I’d die for her… I just cried and cried and cried. I said ‘I’m not giving her up’.” But her stepfather would not have her in the house. It was finally agreed that Denise and her baby could go home on the understanding that she could expect no help from her mother or stepfather. In The Sixties there was little state support for single mothers. Denise went home, and the baby slept in a drawer. She had half a dozen terry cloth nappies. “I was so alone.” She struggled on for three months, before finally giving her baby up for adoption. “It was no life for her, or me.” Denise never forgot Deborah.
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Categories: Book Love, Family history research and On Researching.

Family history: searching the bastardy records

Trawling through records is difficult enough, but when you are trying to trace an illegitimate relative it can become disheartening. More than 14,000 bastardy records held by the West Yorkshire Archive Service have been indexed and made available online at Ancestry.co.uk. The records start from 1690 up to 1914 with documents including the maintenance of illegitimate children, bastardy bonds, and warrants for apprehending errant fathers who tried to escape responsibility for their children. To explore the full database at Ancestry.co.uk, click here.   To read how my research for Ignoring Gravity took me to the Family Records Centre in North London, and what I found there, click here. ‘Ignoring Gravity’ by Sandra Danby [UK: Beulah Press] Buy now   If you want to read more about family history research, try these articles:- Did your Ancestor belong to a Trade Union? Researching children’s homes Look locally And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: How to find an illegitimate ancestor #familyhistory via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-1xY
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Categories: Book Love, Family history research, My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity' and On Researching.

Family history: identifying headstones

Tracing relatives – whether you are researching your family tree or on the trail of your birth family – will inevitably lead you at some point to a graveyard. Finding the headstones of relatives is always a bittersweet moment, but the text and dates may drive your search onwards.That process is now easier as 22,000 new headstone records have been added to the database at TheGenealogist.co.uk with additions of records from Buckinghamshire, Devon, Gloucestershire, Northamptonshire, Somerset, West Midlands, Wiltshire plus 12 Jersey parishes.  Each entry comprises the text of the memorial inscription, photographs of the headstone and its surroundings. Once you have identified the record you want, you can then view a map showing the graveyard location. For more information about the online headstone database, click here for TheGenealogist.co.uk. In Ignoring Gravity, Rose searches a graveyard for the headstone of her birth mother. To read how I researched that scene, click here.  Want to know more about Ignoring Gravity? Click here to watch the book trailer. ‘Ignoring Gravity’ by Sandra Danby [UK: Beulah Press] Buy now And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: Trying to find the headstone of a relative? Try these
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Categories: Book Love, Family history research, My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity' and On Researching.

Reading for research… Relative Strangers

The sub-title of this book is ‘A history of adoption and a tale of triplets’ and it is a fascinating read if you are at all interested in family history and adoption. Yes, there is some history, but Hunter Davies keeps you turning the pages by telling in parallel the story of three babies, triplets, separated at their birth in 1932. May 18, 1932. Kate Hodder gives birth to triplets – rare in those pre-IVF days – and dies the next day. Her husband, jobbing gardener Wills, is left with the three babies plus six older children. He cannot cope. Two go to live with grandparents, and four go to Barnardo’s. The triplets are adopted separately, with seemingly no effort made to keep them together. They live their lives, until finally reunited in 2001. The process of their lives, the changes to adoption law, and the roles of real people such as Thomas Barnardo and Pam Hodgkins, founder of adoption counselling service NORCAP, is told seamlessly by Davies. Florence was the first to be adopted. Aged eight months, she went to live in Devon. Adopted by Emily Davy, a single mother who ran a guest house, Florence’s name was changed
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Categories: Adoption, Book Love and On Researching.

Best friends and siblings

My novels are about identity, genetic inheritance and the influence of our life experiences and upbringing on the building of character and sense of self. With the mystery of adoption added to the mix. Now some new research has added to this mixture of influences. Apparently we can share almost as much DNA with our close friends, as we can with our family. Are we as similar to our best friends as our siblings? So what does this mean for Ignoring Gravity? Does Rose share as many genes with best friend Maggie as she does with her sister Lily? Not quite. Geneticists say unrelated friends may share 1% of genes, that doesn’t sound like much but is the same as fourth cousins [ie those who share great-great-great grandparents]. One per cent is a significant number for geneticists. Co-author of the American study, Professor James Fowler from the University of California in San Diego, said: ‘Looking across the whole genome we find that, on average, we are genetically similar to our friends. We have more DNA in common with the people we pick as friends than we do with strangers in the same population.’ Human evolution may be the reason why:
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Categories: Book Love, On Researching and On Writing.

Long Lost Family: Laurence’s story

Today’s adoption story from the UK television series Long Lost Family focuses on a birth child who searched for many years for his birth mother but never found her. The sense of rejection never left this 55-year old lorry driver from Chesterfield. Laurence Peat says “I’ve only ever cried three times in my life. When Dad died. When Mum died. When I got divorced.” Crying is not a problem to Laurence by the end of this programme. He was told he was adopted when he was seven. “We’re not your real parents,” his adoptive parents told him and he asked no questions, not wanting to upset them. “I don’t like people being upset,” he explains. For years he searched secretly for his birth parents, now that both his adoptive parents are dead he feels able to be open about his search, open about his need to ask ‘why?’ “Why did she put me up for adoption at that early age… If you’re not wanted, it hurts.” Sadly for Laurence, his birth mother is found to be dead. But he has a half-sister who, from a box of family photographs kept by her mother, produces a black-and-white photo of an unidentified
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Categories: Book Love and On Researching.

Researching the graveyard scene

There is a scene in Ignoring Gravity that I kept putting off writing: the one where Rose searches a graveyard for her birth parents. I simply didn’t know where to start. Rose doesn’t know what she’s looking for, perhaps that was why I struggled with how to write it. So I did what I always do when I’m at a loss, I go researching.One grey day in March I went to a local church and wandered around with my camera, soaking up the atmosphere. It was a quiet, still day and I was totally alone. These are the photographs I took. In the end they helped me with the mood of the piece, rather than giving me concrete descriptions. But the visit served as the trigger which helped me write the scene. It taught me that when I’m intimidated by a particular scene, it helps to find a location and soak up the atmosphere. Please use these photographs to inspire your own writing, they worked for me. If you are searching for relatives, read these articles about searching the Deceased Online database, and identifying headstones. Read what other readers are saying about Ignoring Gravity and watch the book trailer.   ‘Ignoring
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Categories: Book Love, My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity', On Researching and On Writing.

Long Lost Family: Helen’s story

The agony of birth parents and children, separated for decades, is explored by the UK television programme Long Lost Family which aims to reunite adult adopted children with their birth families. Anchored by popular presenter Davina McCall and journalist Nicky Campbell [below], it is particularly poignant for Campbell who was himself adopted as a young child. The series is incredibly popular in the UK, concentrating on the emotional stories of children and parents, rather than the nuts and bolts of the search. Some of the interviews are heart-rending. Now in its third series, the programme is sensitive to the emotional difficulties on all sides of the adoption triangle, no judgements are made about the past, the emphasis is on reunion where possible and emotional healing. To give you a taster, here is the story of one birth mother seeking her son. Helen Harrison tried to find her child for years. In 1977, at the age of 16, she fell pregnant. She hid the condition for five months. When her father found out, he turned her out of the house. “I can remember him just looking at me and saying, ‘Just get out, just get out…’ He didn’t want anything more to
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Categories: Book Love and On Researching.

My top 5… literary adoptees

Since I started writing about adoption, my brain seems to be hard-wired to literary tales of adoption. So here are my top 5 literary adoptees …I am still reading, so the list may change. ‘Great Expectations’ by Charles Dickens: After the death of his parents, Pip is brought up by his sister and her husband. “My sister, Mrs Joe Gargery, was more than twenty years older than I, and had established a great reputation with herself and the neighbours because she had brought me up ‘by hand’. Having at that time to find out for myself what the expression meant, and knowing her to have a hard and heavy hand, and to be much in the habit of laying it upon her husband as well as upon me, I supposed that Joe Gargery and I were both brought up by hand.” ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ by JK Rowling: Harry, and his cupboard under the stairs, is probably the most famous literary orphan of modern times. “We swore when we took him in we’d put a stop to that rubbish,” said Uncle Vernon, “swore we’d stamp it out of him! Wizard, indeed!” ‘Peter Pan’ by JM Barrie: Peter, the
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Categories: Book Love, My Top 5... and On Writing.

I agree with… Karen Maitland

Karen Maitland “Do all the research, then close the textbooks and just write a cracking good story. It’s the story that has to come first. The detail has got to be right but you’re telling a story, not writing a history book.” [Karen Maitland, in an interview with The Bookseller magazine May 30, 2014] Maitland is talking here about her new novel The Vanishing Witch. Like her previous novels, it is a medieval thriller. She is meticulous about her research, even cooking the food she writes about. “I think that’s quite important because medieval food was so different from our own. It’s so strangely spiced – for example sandalwood was a flavouring.” Interesting, that she puts the emphasis on story. No matter how in-depth the research, if the story idea is rubbish then the novel will be rubbish. Thank you Karen Maitland. Click here to visit Karen Maitland’s website. If you agree with Karen Maitland, perhaps you will agree with:- Joel and Ethan Coen – on genre types of characters Hilary Mantel – remembers the first time she read ‘Jane Eyre’ Kate Atkinson – on using your own life and family, then fictionalising it   ‘The Vanishing Witch’ by Karen
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

The reality of adoption

There are two faces to adoption: public and private. Some relatives remain secret, hidden forever, the separated players remaining apart and unknown. Some people struggle with the decision to search, when they do they may be elated or dejected. The story of the birth mother and father is often not heard, somehow their voice can be forgotten in the hubbub of reunion. Some lucky people do have a happy ending. The path is always painful.Adoption can be the making of some people, it can save lives, give a new chance, solve problems and bring happiness to abandoned children and childless couples, a new start to the birth parents who for their own reasons made that agonizing decision. British television is full of programmes about adoption reunion and family history. It started with the BBC trailblazer Who Do You Think You Are?, now a global phenomenon and still going strong. ITV got in on the act with Long Lost Family and now co-presenter Nicky Campbell is hosting a new series concentrating on the behind-the-scenes process of adoption today, Wanted: A Family of My Own. Nicky Campbell’s own memoir, Blue-Eyed Son, was an important part of my reading. “Finding someone, when the
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Categories: Adoption, My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity' and On Researching.

Writing: the Danby way

Every writer has their likes and dislikes, their absolute requirements and the things that would be nice, a treat during a hard day at the keyboard. This is how Sandra Danby writes. □ Start the day vowing to take lots of screen breaks, aim to do exercises to ease neck and shoulder tension. Do none. □ Have endless ideas, too many. Scribble them in notebooks, collect magazine and newspaper cuttings, take photographs, writes notes of things overheard. File them away in one of the boxes in a 4ft tall pile beside the desk. Type up the notes into Word and file under the appropriate novel or generally under ‘Ideas’. Forget them, then re-find them days/months/years later and pounce on them like treasure. □ Keep a notebook in every conceivable size, set aside a cupboard for new untouched notebooks just waiting to be written in. Keep a small spiral-bound notebook and pen in your handbag, an A5 notepad and pen beside the bed, an A4 notepad ready for inspiration to strike while on an airplane or waiting in a departure lounge. Never leave the house without a notepad and pen: the journalist training never disappears. It’s also an admittance of fear,
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Categories: On Writing.