Sarah's Secret
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The Research--The Story was True!

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message 1: by Beverly (new)

Beverly A reminder: I will be giving away three books this week to randomly selected readers who comment and participate...and who sign up on my website for the VIP Reader List.

Now on to the research!

Although I had only dabbled in genealogy research, I was hooked when I sorted through the thick files and yellowed documents at the National Archives. I knew my grandfather had served in the Civil War. Yes, few people even in my generation have a grandfather who fought in the Civil War. I discovered he was born in Indiana in 1840 as John Howard, (we knew him as Harvey Depew or H.D.). As a veteran he had pursued veteran’s benefits but because he changed his name and needed to prove he was the same person, there were many documents, forms, correspondence and depositions.

Buried in those files was confirmation that the rumored family secret was true! He had another family.

I continued my genealogy journey searching the US Census to track down residences and the birth of his first set of children. He and his family were listed in the 1870 Census in Texas but he was missing in the 1880 census. Going back to the Archive documents, I found clues: his first wife Harriet stated he left her destitute with her sixth child on the way in 1878 when he went into town for a load of corn and never returned; H.D., himself claimed he worked cattle and that he had been a cook. Since 1878 was at the peak of the long-horn cattle drives from Texas to Kansas, perhaps he joined a cattle drive. However, there was no record of him in Texas or Kansas. He literally disappeared in 1878.

I visited my grandfather’s birthplace, trudged through cemeteries, visited county courthouses, museums, historical societies and libraries in seven states.

I found him under his new name in 1890 in Wyoming. He had filed a land claim as a single man. There, he met and married my grandmother, the local school teacher. With so little information about my mysterious grandfather, I concluded the story needed to be fiction. “Sarah’s Secret” was born.

Learn more about this Search for Family Secrets in a complimentary e-book available on my website when you sign up for the VIP Readers List.

When I began, I hadn’t expected to use this research for a fictional story but it turned out to be invaluable, especially views of the farmland in the rural Midwest. Once I determined that the story would be fiction, I read books and stories about the time period, such as the period of long-horn cattle drives from Texas to Dodge City, Kansas, I pursued specific questions on-line such as “was there a bridge in 1911 across the Canadian River between Texas and Oklahoma?” I found books of cowboy slang and read descriptions in libraries of dugouts and sod houses written by hand and donated to historical museums. I found stories by homesteaders besieged with drought, snowstorms, and hostile Indians fascinating. When it supported my story, I used quotes from the depositions in my grandfather’s file in the National Archives.

After I began writing, I was grateful for the easy access via ‘Google’ to find information in the moment when I needed to know some historical details or language usage such as was “OK” in common use. I also discovered that much of the fun of writing historical fiction is the research and integrating what I learned into the story to give more vivid details to the reader.

Have you thought about turning an intriguing family story into historical fiction?

message 2: by Aurora (new)

Aurora | 19 comments Your book definitely sounds very fascinating, fiction or not. I actually havent thought of turning family stories into fiction, although my family stories dont come close to yours :).

message 3: by Aurora (new)

Aurora | 19 comments Also how on your website does one vecome vip reader

message 4: by Beverly (new)

Beverly Hi Aurora,
I am so glad you asked the question about how to become a VIP Reader. When I checked my website the box to sign up had disappeared! Who knows why...but it is back now. You will see it in the middle of the home page near the top. Thanks again for your question. And thanks in advance for signing up.

message 5: by Aurora (new)

Aurora | 19 comments Still cant find it :(

message 6: by Linda (new)

Linda Ulleseit (lindaulleseit) | 50 comments Hi, Aurora! My grandmother told me stories about the family all during my growing up. I wrote UNDER THE ALMOND TREES to showcase my favorite of the stories. My current WIP, ALOHA SPIRIT, is based on the life of my husband's grandmother. These stories need to be told!

message 7: by Beverly (new)

Beverly Aurora, on my website Welcome page there is a box right under Welcome that is gold/orange in color. You will see VIP Readers on the left with a space under to put in your name and email. On the right is "Searching for Family Sectets". I hope this helps

message 8: by Beverly (new)

Beverly Linda, that is good that you have written your family stories. I agree, they need to be told.

message 9: by Debbie (new)

Debbie | 78 comments I signed up - thanks!!

Martha Conway | 255 comments Mod
This is a fascinating tale. I'd love to know more about your grandfather's personality — were there stories about him? What gave you the first clue that he might have had another family?

Also, I love learning historical slang. It would be great if you could post some of your favorites. :)


message 11: by Aurora (new)

Aurora | 19 comments Signed up under the name Svetlana :) contrary to my email i live in Texas

message 12: by Beverly (new)

Beverly Great! Glad it finally worked for you.

message 13: by Beverly (new)

Beverly Martha wrote: "Bev,
This is a fascinating tale. I'd love to know more about your grandfather's personality — were there stories about him? What gave you the first clue that he might have had another family?


Martha, I wanted to know more about him too. He was not discussed in our family. My grandmother refused to talk about him. He died when my father was 4 so he did not remember him. So there were no stories.

The initial rumors about the first family began after two of my uncles wrote to the Veteran's Administration to request a new gravestone. They had found his grave in New Mexico with a crumbling gravestone. The V.A.'s response indicated they had the wrong name and that there seemed to be another family. And the search began!

message 14: by Beverly (new)

Beverly Martha, I'll respond to your request about slang when I post about my grandfather tomorrow.

message 15: by Angela (new)

Angela Sanford | 82 comments I signed up for your newsletter. I love reading about your history. There are so many blank spaces in my history that I would love to know about. I admire all the hard work that you have put into learning about your past. I can't wait to read more.

message 16: by Beverly (new)

Beverly It is fun ,Angela, to search for that information to fill those gaps.

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