Last Monday I rambled on about my renewed interest in searching for my roots. At the time, I was on the verge of identifying the country of origin for one branch of my family. Today, I know…at least, I think I do.
My great grandmother was Emaline (Emiline/Emeline) McCoy. She was born in the U.S., but I wanted to know what country her kin came from. Once again, I tapped into research already done by others and traced Emaline’s line back to 1711 in Argyllshire, Scotland where the Highland Clan Campbell ruled the land. Argyllshire is located in western Scotland and includes the Isle of Mull where I spent a delightful few days many years ago.
|Trekking on the Isle of Mull in my Lilliputian pink rain jacket|
|And they also have cool boats|
As I searched databases and added names to my family tree, I found a married couple whose names matched my ancestor’s names but who lived a century later. Tilt! Did somebody incorrectly record the dates? Were the duplicate names a coincidence? (I was finding many name repetitions. Seriously, there are other names besides William and James. Get creative, people!) Or was the information I’d originally gathered just plain wrong? This was a mystery I wanted to solve, so I found a site that listed the names from Parishes in Argyllshire during that period. My kin were not listed and therefore the link to me could not be corroborated. I want to believe my McCoys had once lived in Argyll, because I love their socks.
|Dig those socks|
Then it occurred to me that sorting out conflicting information like this is also a mystery writer’s dilemma (and a journalist’s and a detective’s). “Facts” must be verified. Suspects eliminated. Unfortunately, eye-witness accounts are often unreliable. People forget; they get confused. Sometimes they lie. Sometimes they just write down the wrong dates.
One thing I know for sure is that fictional witnesses should not all be cooperative, spilling their guts for the sake of the plot. The search for truth is messy, frustrating and often emotionally draining. In fiction, this is a good thing, because it creates conflict and as all readers know: no friction, no fiction.
When sending a fictional sleuth to investigate, whether she is a professional or an amateur, it’s important that each witness interviewed has a motive for talking to your hero(ine). Is the witness well-meaning but in his need to be helpful, he pads his story with events that didn’t happen? Is he somebody who doesn’t want to get involved and therefore tells Fictional Investigator that he saw nothing? Or has the emotional shock of a crisis corrupted his memory of events?
Here is an interesting article about the challenge of witness testimony. Or just ask Jim Born:
So, I'm off to verify The Real McCoys of Argyllshire. In the meantime, Write on! Search on!