Wednesday, August 17, 2011

When family history mirrors fiction (or the other way around?)

Roan Mountain, TN
Something unexpected happened today while I was doing some final research reading for my current novel in progress, set in the Tennessee Valley in 1787. In an effort to plot out the last few chapters of the story, while pouring over several reference books, I ran across the name of someone in my maternal family tree.

Thomas Amis (b. 1743/44), my seven times great uncle*, lived in the Tennessee Valley and took part in the history of that area during the time I'm writing about.

I didn't know this when I first conceived the story. I didn't know this until today, when the surname Amis caught my attention and I cross referenced the details given with those I have in my extended family tree, compiled by various relations. It was a match.

Apparently Thomas was one of the first merchants to arrive in the Tennessee Valley (then part of NC), having relocated himself and his family from east of the mountains in North Carolina. He owned a small store and tavern in what is today Hawkins Co. TN, and he attempted to run for a seat in the North Carolina Assembly in 1787, the year my novel commences. But for reasons I won't go into now (to avoid story spoilers), the election was unsuccessful, the polling stations were close, and the Assembly declared both parties from the county not "entitled to a seat."

It's both thrilling and surprising to have found this unexpected link between my family and my novel in progress. This is the second time I've set out to tell a story and ended up brushing shoulders with my maternal family's history. Though seeing as how they settled in the Virginia/Carolina area from the late 1600s, I suppose it was inevitable.

*I've been corrected about this detail by my mom, who has a better head for keeping straight all our family connections. Thomas Amis wasn't my many times great uncle, but my cousin. My second cousin six times removed to be exact. Thanks mom!


  1. Lori, how cool to come across one of your ancestors while researching your story. I wonder if he'll make an appearance in your story. Hmm?

  2. I don't think so. The story is nearly finished. But during my first edit I'll keep an eye out for a cameo spot. :)

  3. Oh Lori, that's awesome! Love those little "God coincidences" like that. :)

  4. Keli, with more time to think on it... there might be a spot for old Thomas. I'll have to study my maps and see if he'd be anywhere near where the characters will be in a couple scenes I skipped writing in the first draft. You've made me want to work him in!

  5. Ruth, It is pretty cool. That family tree is so sprawling and tangled, calling him a great X7 uncle is the nearest thing to simplifying it I can get. Those families had many children (Thomas Amis had 16 children with two wives, not all of which lived past infancy), all the way down to both of my maternal grandparents, who came from large farming families. Lots of intermarrying among several families too, way back, but we won't look too closely at that! LOL.

  6. Ha! My mom corrects me. She can keep this huge network of relations straight and remembers what second cousins and cousins however many times removed means, and how we are all related. She tells me that Thomas Amis is, more correctly, my second cousin, six times removed. Thanks, Mom. :)

    I knew he wasn't a direct ancestor of mine, but after that things got a bit confusing, apparently. It's still quite amazing to me to find a relation who lived through the history I'm writing about, and even took a part in things politically at the time. I hope to blog more about the situation I've eluded to, but don't want to post spoilers at this very early date. Perhaps if/when this book is contracted, I'll go into the situation in more detail here on the blog. I've been so tempted to more times than I can count, but I'm practicing restraint.