top of page
  • Writer's pictureWendy Percival

Secrets and crime - a #genealogy #mystery writer's bread and butter!

As any family historian will agree, researching your ancestors is rather like being a

detective following a trail of evidence to get to the truth. Not surprising then, that the intrigue of digging around in archives to unearth long buried secrets became the inspiration for my genealogy mysteries.

Genealogy techniques and plotting.

A mystery writer uses genealogy techniques to solve a fictional mystery in the same way as a family historian uncovers secrets about their ancestors. But for a mystery writer, what we uncover is the inspiration behind the story, and how we do it becomes the framework of the plot.

Family historians realise quite soon how little we know about our ancestors and it was this thought which set the writing side of my brain buzzing as I began my own research.

Before long, I’d formed the basis of a plot and created my protagonist, historical researcher, Esme Quentin.

In the first book of the series, Blood-Tied, Esme uses her research knowledge to uncover the secret past of her sister Elizabeth, convinced it will provide answers to why Elizabeth was attacked and left unconscious.

Background research and inspiration

Having discovered that an ancestor of my husband was convicted of theft in 1831 and transported to Van Diemen’s Land, I began reading about the horrors endured by transported convicts, before, during and after their journey.

I was gripped and what I read inspired the plot of The Indelible Stain – the title of the book being a reference when the shame of having convict ancestry was considered a “stain” on a family’s reputation.

Family secrets and inspiration

Secrets I’ve uncovered during my own family history research often find their way into a plot. After stumbling upon the revealing will of a family member, where he’d left all his estate to a lady who most definitely wasn’t his wife, I was intrigued. But while I did uncover the story, after some judicious digging, I created a completely different version which went into the plot of the third Esme story, The Malice of Angels.

Letters are always a joy to a family historian and can reveal much, though one from my aunt to my great uncle keen to unlock the mystery of her grandfather failed completely. While my great uncle acknowledged that his father loved parties and the high life, he would say no more, announcing that there he intended to “draw a line”.

Despite my great uncle’s letter being so coy, the idea that a letter might expose a devastating truth stayed with me and I used it in the Esme Quentin “short reads” novella, Death of a Cuckoo.

Resources and inspiration

Resources for family historians are many – census returns, birth, marriage and death certificates, military records, newspaper archives, quarter sessions, courts records, wills, photographs, diaries – the list is endless. So, more than enough potential for inspiring the plot of a genealogical mystery!


For more information go to Books in the menu above or click on the image

bottom of page