Family Trees, Random Old Timey Records, and Historical Fiction

Last week, I came across a post on another blog, The Second Sentence, about how genealogy can help a historical fiction writer. I haven’t been particularly inspired to write anything based on my own genealogy, but I know people who have.

In reading ship manifests and censuses over the years, I’ve come across interesting things in the course of searching for various cousins and ancestors. For example, this weekend, I went back to the Talbot branch of my family to look at something. The Talbots are my grandmother’s mother’s family. They interest me because the Talbots were, as far as I know, the first of my Irish ancestors to set foot on American soil.

I found a Patrick Talbot born in Ireland in 1855 living on Staten Island in 1915. Hmm, I wondered. Could this be the same Patrick Talbot who is my 3rd great-uncle?

  • I noticed on a New York State Census of 1915 that there was a notation in the last column, something about 1914. Then I noticed that it said that Inmates in an Institution Entered In What Year. Inmates? A prison? Say what? At the top, the census said it was the enumeration of the New York Farm Colony. A quick google later, I learned that the New York City Farm Colony merged with a hospital that treated tubercular patients from 1915. This Patrick Talbot turned out not to be the Patrick Talbot on my family tree; his mother’s name was wrong.ย 

I’ve been trying to pin down an immigration date for my great-great-grandparents Edward and Annie Talbot for a while now. I think it might be 1890 (their son was born in New Jersey in 1891), but it might’ve been a few years earlier than that. The US 1890 Census was lost in a fire several years ago, unfortunately. Also, not knowing if they were married in Ireland or in America makes it tricky to search for them, too, because I’m not sure who came over first or if they sailed together or if she came first…

I was searching for a marriage record somewhere. And I found one for an Edward Talbot. In Nagasaki, Japan in 1895.

  • So, clearly not my Edward Talbot–he was living in New Jersey in 1895–but this William Edward Talbot, born in England in the 1870s, married a Kun Mi in Nagasaki, Japan in 1895. According to the marriage certificate, they were both 23 years old, he was from Birmingham, she was from Formosa (Taiwan), and he was a hotel keeper, and they were married in the English Church in Nagasaki in accordance with Christian rites.ย 

That’s a historical fiction waiting to happen. How did they meet? Why did they get married? Did she speak English? Did they stay in Nagasaki? Questions abound, guys.

Some time ago, I remember looking at some clearly well-off British people’s census returns from the nineteenth century–the family is listed first, then all the servants–and I was able to imagine how Victoria’s family would have been listed on the UK 1891 census, for instance. Apparently those with titles were listed by title in the census forms.

This is Winston Churchill at aged 16 and his mother, Lady Randolph Churchill (Jennie Jerome), in the 1891 UK Census:

8 thoughts on “Family Trees, Random Old Timey Records, and Historical Fiction

  1. That's so cool! History is way too cool. Everything people did back then has shaped our today. And we can shape the future for our kids. We hear it every day but the truth behind it is amazing!


  2. This reminds me of my only successful past-present match up. Getting the urge to dabble again. Lol! The past is pretty rich with inspiration. The same thing – I imagine that might be one of the most difficult aspects of genealogy – doing all the legwork only to find it's the wrong person. But then you run into some pretty interesting things there, too.


  3. I was super interested to find a record of that marriage–not my people, but still super interesting to see an official record of an interracial marriage. Now I'm all like, \”What was going on there?\”


  4. I have a hunch that most of the Talbots stayed in Ireland, but it's only a hunch and I only have names and birth years to go by, which makes it tricky. But then you find really interesting things that could very well spark in the next story.


  5. Interesting! Honestly I wouldn't even know how to go about looking up all of those things. I know my father's side is pretty interesting and also all over the place…lots of inventors even Elias Howe (sewing machine). My mom's is easier to trace and I have a basic tree for her, but I've never dug into it. I hope you keep sharing what you find out ๐Ÿ™‚


  6. It's all on or, so easy enough! I dabble in genealogy, but other than names and when people were born or died or were married…I can't say I know a ton more than that about my family.


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