Thursday, December 5, 2019

America 400

I learned something while writing my recent novel about John Lothropp. The Pilgrims who came to America in 1620 were Separatists, not Puritans. How many times have we seen paintings of the Pilgrims in Puritan clothing? When in reality they probably wore the colors of everyday-people in England. All over the internet you can find learned people calling the Pilgrims Puritans. I’m wondering if I was taught this in school. How did the false information get into my brain?

 Here’s a brief description of both of these groups of people 

English Protestants who denied the Church of England altogether. They separated themselves from the perceived corruption of the Church and formed their own congregations. They felt true Christian believers should seek out other Christians and together form churches that could determine their own affairs without having to submit to the judgment of any higher human authority. (In the early 1600s it would have been the king and his archbishops/clergy.) Some believed the Church failed to promote faith because of lascivious living and greed of the hierarchy. Because Separatist congregations were illegal in the early 17th Century, many of its adherents were persecuted by the High Commission. They were often labeled as traitors and many left England.

Held the belief that the Bible—and not traditions—should be the sole source of spiritual authority, holding that the pattern for organization of the church was laid down by the New Testament. They were also at the fore of the campaign for reform. The key ideas of the Reformation were a call to “purify” the Church of England from its Catholic practices—thus the believers called themselves “Puritans.” They insisted on significant changes in the Book of Common Prayer but were reasonably satisfied with the Church’s Calvinist teachings on predestination and the Eucharist as well as its hostility toward images. Although they didn’t leave the Church, they maintained that the Church of England was only partially reformed. They called for ethical and moral purity, believing true reformers should remain in the Church, working for this purification. They adopted a literal reading of the Sabbath commandment (Sabbatarianism) that called for both worship and rest on the seventh day of the week. They believed Paradise would occur on Earth prior to the final judgment (millennialism). Because their ministers made it their purpose to interpret scripture for the people, they became a central role in their society.
The biggest difference between the Separatists (Pilgrims falling into this group) and the Puritans is that the Puritans believed they did not need to abandon the larger Church of England. Their culture of thrift and industry fostered prosperity for themselves and their community. Puritans were known to wear simple clothing that was black or dark brown. They felt it ungodly to laugh or have fun. Puritan’s preferred to call themselves "the godly." They developed a colony in America which they wanted to be a model to the world. In 1630 a famous Puritan, John Winthrop, wrote of settling the Massachusetts Bay Colony: “We shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us.”

In 2020, America will be celebrating the 400th Anniversary of the arrival of the Pilgrims and formation of the Plymouth Colony. 

In commemoration of the event, there will be many festivities in Massachusetts.

Visit the Plymouth 400 website to learn more about the many commemorations, including the Commemoration Opening Ceremony in Plymouth on April 24th; the Official Maritime Salute with regatta, lobster and military fanfare on June 27-28th; the August 1st Wampanoag Ancestors Walk; the Official Massachusetts State House Salute on September 14th; the Embarkation Festival on the 19-20th of September; the Indigenous History Conference and Powwow on October 29th; and finally, Illuminate Thanksgiving from November 20-25th.

 Visit Plimoth Plantation Museum where they provide personal encounters with history and teach of the Mayflower’s arrival into Cape Cod.

 To commemorate the 400th anniversary of the landing the Pilgrims Massachusetts Society of MayflowerDescendants will host a naturalization ceremony featuring Pilgrims escorting new citizens to their swearing-in ceremony! Because there were 102 passengers on the Mayflower, 102 Mayflower members in Pilgrim dress will walk arm in arm with 102 recent immigrants as they get ready to be sworn in as US citizens at a naturalization ceremony.

 General Society of Mayflower Descendants events include the Mayflower II Anniversary Gala in Provincetown; a reenactment of the signing of the Mayflower Compact; a sure-to-be memorable Pilgrim Progress march through Boston, culminating in the official State House salute to the 400th anniversary; and the Mayflower Society’s 400th Anniversary Black Tie Gala, in addition to tours and other activities.

The New England HistoricGenealogical Society will commemorate the Mayflower’s 400th anniversary with Mayflower Heritage Tours—exclusive tours directed by NEHGS experts that explore the sites of the Mayflower's inception and journey.
    In June 2020 NEHGS will lead a tour to the United Kingdom for a visit to Plymouth, Southampton, and Dartmouth, England, with world-renowned NEHGS Great Migration scholar Robert Charles Anderson as our guide. The tour will focus on the events leading to the embarkation of the Mayflower in 1620—a journey that would change the world.
    “A New England Sojourn” in June 2020 and again in September 2020 will be two exclusive, three-day visits to historic sites in Massachusetts associated with the Pilgrims, including Plymouth, Provincetown, Duxbury, and elsewhere.

In England, the commemoration focuses on the key towns and cities that make up the national Mayflower trail. On the Mayflower 400 website you can explore the sites, attractions and places on the trail using maps and destination links.

 Even in Holland you can take a walking tour that makes it easy to imagine how life was in the 17th century. Guidedvisits to the Leiden American Pilgrim Museum, the Pieterskerk and the University will allow you to understand why the pilgrims ended up in Leiden, and why it was such a dynamic place to be back then.

Monday, April 1, 2019

April is National Poetry Month

Poetry scares me. When someone asks me to write a poem, my first thought is “I can’t do it,” and my mind closes down. Yet, I know if I were better at poetry, it would affect my writing style and storytelling. I desire to achieve lovely metaphors and thoughtful prose that make a reader stop in their tracks and savor the words.
On the blog Stephanie Says So, one can learn a different style of poem writing every day for the month of April. Today, Stephanie posted instructions on how to write The 5 W’s Poem. I have followed her instruction and this is what I wrote:

Helped form my identity
With the way they lived their life
When they had trials, made choices, allowed circumstance, finished achievements, and followed talents
Because they too desired happiness and fought to survive

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Using Ancestors’ Stories in Fiction

Just how far back into the past can you reach to find new ideas for writing? Family history (genealogy) is the second most popular hobby in America, making it easy to find information online. Have you ever considered using stories or unusual events that happened in your ancestors’ lives in your novel? As writers, we must always be willing to go looking for new and creative concepts. When writing fiction about ancestors, you can balance facts with imagination.

Learning about your ancestors can be a treasure trove for character building, plotting, settings, and so much more. One of the most famous examples of an author using his ancestors in a novel would be Alex Haley when he wrote Roots. But did you know Nathaniel Hawthorne
loosely based The Scarlet Letter on his strict Puritan ancestors? Or that Emily Bronte in the gothic novel, Wuthering Heights, based the unusual and imbalanced character of Heathcliff from an ancestor?

Our ancestors’ stories often hold potential for great plot lines. You don’t need to write their stories as historical fiction, but instead bring their experiences forward into contemporary times or even the future. It’s possible the struggles your ancestors experienced on the Oregon Trail or settling a new land may be the very same experiences a colony in space may come up against. If you’re an American, then its more than likely you have immigrant ancestors. Often their stories are full of learning, strife, hate, fear, and misunderstandings from both the country they left and the one they settled. Assimilation is usually not easy. Finding the motivation behind these issues might be where a story lies.

You can find ideas on how to create well-rounded and interesting characters from people in your family tree. Experiences, hardships, and relationships make us different from one another. Rarely are people all-good or all-evil. Create fully dimensional villains by thinking of the worst person in your family then round them out with at least one redeeming quality. People are always more complex than they seem, as your characters should be. From one of my ancestors I formed a character who steals from his mother, lies easily and without hesitation, has alcohol and drug abuse issues, and has spent time in prison for crimes you can’t speak of in polite society. Yet, he’s partially redeemed by his sensitivity and the memories of his family he holds close to his heart.

People’s life experiences shape them. Find out social, economic, religious, and political backgrounds. Did they grow up in a big family, or were they an only child? How high of an education did they receive and was it traditional? Were they illiterate? Did they love the earth and farm the land? 
Did the family carry traits from their homeland brought to the country of immigration? Did their name spelling change? Did they have to learn a new language?

Interviewing the oldest living relatives in your family is a good place to start. Ask what they remember about their parents and grandparents. Writing about family members means researching clues to figure out what kind of life they led, who they loved, how they loved, and what they did with their lives.

To find your ancestors, you could use family history websites such as,,, and Some of these websites can help you track down living descendants of your ancestor’s siblings. It’s a great way to find photos because people usually didn’t keep their own portraits, but gave them away to family members. A face is worth a thousand words—let your imagination go wild and write those thousand words from your ancestor’s likeness.

Old census records can be valuable information for how many were in a family and what their occupations were. And it’s amazing what can be found in a courthouse. They hold records of births, marriages, deaths, and so much more. Court records can help you find drama about relatives who were criminals, but also those who were victims. Land records could demonstrate an ancestor’s lifestyle and wealth. Perhaps they didn’t own land, but instead followed the migration to unchartered territories of the Wild West.

Researching and writing about your ancestors can help you come to respect them for who they were and the paths they chose. In knowing who your ancestors were and writing about them, you can help others by giving past experiences understanding. Transform them into characters that suit the needs of your story. You could even write yourself as a fictional character searching for his or her past and unlocking family secrets. Don’t forget to leave room for your imagination to take your readers to new and interesting places.