“Young Willie took off one day, never to be heard from again.” Great characters can be found at home

Young Willie wasn’t so young.  He was a 43 years old husband and father of six children who received an inheritance from his father and was able to purchase a farm of his own for the first time.  Three years later, he sold it back to the previous owner for the purchase price.  It was 1875 and I could find no evidence of him after that date.  He was my Great-Great Grandfather, son of a pioneering minister in Canada.

Young Willie is not part of the novel have started to finally plot out, but he is always in my mind, thumbing his nose at my endless questions.  Young Willie is only one character that I have found right in my own family history.  The wonderful thing is that I will be able to write a story for Young Willie, inventing his travels and his ending.  I can’t wait.

I have been reading US history books spanning the late 1800s to the 1930s.  The books have probably been too detailed for my purposes, but I want to know how people lived; the hardships, gender relations, familial structures, and ultimately what drove people to make drastic changes in their lives.  One of the common themes with my character is sudden, life-altering moments that propel them in unexpected directions, with long-term consequences.

One of my main characters in my novel is a Quaker from Pennsylvania, who married his third cousin, when she was 6 months pregnant.  After a year, he left with other men to find work:  the others returned home, he didn’t   He was my Great-Great Grandfather and it is almost delicious thinking how I will be shaping this “new” character, finding what motivates him and how his decisions greatly impacted others.

NOTE:  After years of searching, I received an expected email from the Great-Granddaughter of Young Willie’s sister.  She was much older than me and spent her childhood listening to her Grandmother’s family stories.  We corresponded for several weeks, sharing information and photos.  I was so anxious to tell my theory that my ancestor, who I knew as William, had abandoned his family, but something was holding me back.  In the middle of one of her emails, she casually mentioned that “Young Willie took off one day, never to be heard from again.”  I had confirmation and started planning his “future.”


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