• Shae Bryant

Why I Won't Re-write Family History


The Appalachian Roots series is based in my own family history. The first two books are true stories with a few pieces of fiction added to them. The second two books are heavily based in truth, but do not follow the stories as closely as "The Tin Photo" or "Is She Home?"


One piece of feedback I get is how sad the stories are for "The Tin Photo" and "Is She Home?" Yes, they are sad. "Is She Home?" has been very difficult to write because the majority of the story is nothing but heartbreak. You will certainly need your tissues.


Sure, I could have changed things. I could have made up a happy ending, or left out parts of the stories. I could have added more characters that didn't exist, changed the main characters, or just created a new story all together. Historical fiction allows you to re-write history. It's fiction, after all!


But I won't re-write this history. These are stories that came from my own family. Not just records found on a site. The stories from "Is She Home?" came from the mouths of my family members. Even some of the small details like waiting in a charity line for food and living in the tenements of New York. Those are details that history doesn't tell you. Then there are the details history does tell you, and they aren't pretty.


The real Jennie Callaghan was my Great great Grandmother. She was Irish, and lived in New York. History itself tells us that Irish immigrants were treated poorly at that time. They were viewed as second class citizens and many of them were forced into neighborhoods and tenements only for the Irish. This is something I won't gloss over or hide from my readers. It's real. It happened, and she lived through it.


It is the same for "The Tin Photo". My Great Grandfather was the real Matko Zjdelar. He was a Serbian immigrant and a coal miner in Westmoreland County, PA. He experienced the horrific conditions of the coal mines then, and the violence of the coal strikes of 1911.


In a future book, I'll be looking at the events of Bloody Mingo in West Virginia. These were events that brought in the United States Government, and caused what some refer to as a civil war between miners and the men who owned the mines. It was violent, bloody and painful. My Great Grandparents lived in Mingo County, and they were coal miners. I interviewed my Grandmother's sister, and she told me stories of what life was like when they lived and grew up in company housing.


History is not pretty. It's uncomfortable. It has parts we are not proud of. Your own country, your own ethnicity, and this world in general has things in its history that we don't like. It is not our job to erase it. It is not our job to ignore it. It is our job to learn from it, and be happy that we are uncomfortable with it now. We've grown. We've moved past it. And we won't forget it happened.