All in a Day’s Work.

How are your fictional characters employed? A hardscrabble dystopian wanderer can live off the land for a short time, but in other genres it’s not realistic for people to have no visible means of support: even Edward Fairfax Rochester of Jane Eyre had to manage his farmland and investments, so he could hire a governess and pay other servants – especially Grace Poole, who minded the madwoman locked in the attic suite.

Characters’ jobs may have little to do with the plot, but what they do for a living is a part of their background that can influence back-story. At the very least, work is a competing demand on a character’s time that will dictate when the story can plausibly take place, such as over a weekend, or during a vacation.

In Irish Firebrands, leading man Dillon is a journalist who also does television reporting, and he rents out his ancestral farm. His rival, Frank, is an organic dairy farmer. Among supporting characters, Paula is her brother Frank’s partner in the dairy, and she makes artisan cheese (her husband is a schoolteacher); Eilish is a librarian; and the Sweeney family operates a hardware shop and a garden center with a greenhouse.

Leading lady Lana is a professional genealogist. Her purpose in going to Ireland is to conduct family history research for a client back home, but during her stay she gets involved with Dillon’s search for his roots. In Chapter 7, she shows him how to record his research, using these two forms (click to enlarge):

pedigree chartfam grp rec

Lana took some papers from beneath the box of documents. “Like everything else in life, in genealogy you’ve got paperwork. But there are really only two important forms, and they’re not too complicated. This one’s a pedigree chart. It’s used to record vital statistics for yourself and three generations of direct line ancestors.”

Dillon pulled a pen from the inside breast pocket of his jacket, but Lana proffered a pencil. “This one’s a working copy. We might have to make corrections.” She cleared space on the table.

“Good idea.” He looked at her with pencil poised, as if ready to take dictation. Suppressing a smile, she pointed to a blank line at the top of the paper.

“This is chart number one.” She indicated a line halfway down on the left side. “And you are person number one.”

Dillon muttered while he wrote. “Born … place … married … place died – not yet – in spite of the gobshites who’ve tried to change that … and … spouse….” He looked up from the paper. “There’s a place for Mo’s name, but not her dates.”

“That’s because she gets her own chart, for her side of the family. But if you’re not going to do one for her family, you can add her information below her name.”

“Okay…. What’s next?”

“You see the fine print that says, ‘Father of no. 1’, ‘Mother of no. 1’, and so forth? This means that except for number one, who can be either sex, males are always listed on the even numbered lines – the top ones – and females on the bottom ones. Using this convention avoids confusion if you draw your own charts or use some that don’t have those reminders. Then, when you get to the fourth generation, you start a new chart, where number one will be the same as number eight on chart one, and so on.”

“Got it.” Dillon watched Lana pick up another paper. “Now what?”

“Each couple on the pedigree chart is a family, and we document it on a family group record. Parents are at the top, children are listed below, and you use as many continuation pages as needed, to record all the kids. This one’s for you and Mo.”

“But Mo and I didn’t have – a family.” He looked troubled.

She spoke as gently as she could. “Even a childless couple is a family.”

Then she drew the box of documents closer, and demonstrated as she spoke. “All the family group records go behind the pedigree chart they belong to, and documentation that belongs to each family member goes with that family’s group record. If a document was created during a person’s childhood, it goes with the family group record where that person appears as a child. Records for unmarried adults stay with their parents, but documents created after a person married go with the form that shows him as a spouse.”

She took a manila envelope from the document box. “This is the file for your family with Mo. I put in your marriage certificate and her death certificate. If you don’t start a file for Mo’s parents, you can put in her birth certificate. But your birth certificate will go into the file for your parents.” She handed the packet to Dillon.

“I see.” He put the forms he’d completed into the envelope. He pushed the pile of papers in the document box to one side, and he stood the envelope on edge in one end. “So, what about my photos?”

“If you don’t store them in albums, you can use the same filing system. Some may seem hard to file because of their subjects – like a photo showing two or more families. You could make copies to file with each family, or file it with one family and make a cross-reference page for the others.”

Lana placed blank forms and empty envelopes into the box of documents. “To get you started, I’ve provided forms and envelopes for each family on your first pedigree chart, plus a couple of extras.”

©2012-2014 by Christine Plouvier. All Rights Reserved

To help you get started on your own genealogy – or, if you write massive family sagas with several generations of characters you need to keep track of – Lana has provided PDF copies of the forms she and Dillon used. To download, just click on the Genealogy Forms icons in the sidebar.


Filed under Fiction, Genealogy, How I write, Novels, Uncategorized, What I write, What I write about

2 responses to “All in a Day’s Work.

  1. Did you really include these forms in the book? I could write my family tree on a Post-It note. LOL! Just my kids and me. I was hatched. Nonetheless, this is very interesting for someone with a nice family.

    I always enjoy researching the different jobs my characters have, too. I almost always end up with a priest and some sort of engineer (I’ve had an aeronautical, a chemical and a civil engineer) as secondary characters. And I almost always have someone in the advertising field as well as the legal field. Oddly, out of all those jobs, the most difficult job I’ve researched was that of a Marine.

    Excellent post! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The forms were reproduced in an end-of-chapter vignette in the illustrated edition (temporarily out-of-print).

    But “nice” has nothing to do with families and their histories. Like Camp NaNoWriMo, anybody who has an interest in genealogy can do it, and can do it their own way. (I expand on this theme in today’s post.)

    Sounds as if many of your characters have college educations. Not too far along into writing Irish Firebrands, I took a “character psychology” test for Dillon, and the results came back saying that he’d make a good journalist – which was the job I’d already given him.



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