Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Hunt for Murrell Brannan

One thing about being an award-winning historical fiction author (yes, I still shiver when I think about that!) or for that matter, ANY historical writer, is that unlike pure fiction, this stuff is about real people.  Unfortunately, this entails a level of research, since it is somewhat--okay, REALLY important to actually research the details you put into the story.

Now, I am a Gemini.  This is the Zodiac's sign indicating those of us with tendencies that veer toward ADHD.  (Which also explains why I have EIGHT current manuscripts in progress.  Love those shiny new stories!)  Anyway, Gemini's do NOT excel at the tedium involved in historical research.  Nope, not my bag, I like to call the shots, and tell my characters what to do!

That brings me to the case of one Murrell Brannan.  One of the pivotal figures in "Tales from Table Rock," is the man my grandmother fell in love with.  The love that slipped through her fingers.  The man who she got misty-eyed telling me about when I was  young girl.

Unfortunately, while I know all about him from Grandma's stories, I had next to nothing to go on for actual facts about the man.  All I knew for sure was that his name was Murrell.  Or Merle, or Merrill... Last name Brannan, Brannon, Brandon... You get the point.  Date of birth?  Sometime at the turn of the century.  Birthplace?  Somewhere around Shubert Nebraska.  Or at least Southeast Nebraska.  Parents?  Kids?  Nope, I've got nothing.

Then, I got a packet of letters from my cousin Dan.  Grandma had written him some letters when he was away at college.  In them, she talked about Murrell, who in the twilight of their lives had re-appeared.  (I don't want to give all the story away.  You'll have to read the book!)  But, all Grandma called him was "Loverboy."  No help.  I tried Googling Loverboy.  Nope, not a thing to help me locate one Murrell Brannan.

I was lamenting my frustration in locating anything concrete about the man who was the love of my grandmother's life to my dear friend Sandra Spidell.  Sandy has put up with me since second grade, so she knows all about my fickle Gemini traits.  Lucky for me, she is a Sagittarius, and has a bit more tenaciousness than I will ever hope to possess.  I might also mention that Sandy is a Genealogy GOD!

Last night, while I was sitting at the computer typing some schedules at work, my smart phone buzzed letting me know I had an email.  Now, it doesn't take a Gemini to need distractions from writing schedules.  So, I snapped at the opportunity.  Here was a message from Sandy.  "Surprise, I found your Murrell Brannan."  She had a link to a genealogy site with all his family tree...and even a photograph of him as a young man.  About the age when he would have been sweeping my grandmother off her feet. 

I screamed.

Which brought half the store running to find out what I'd done--this time!  Literally, with tears streaming down my face, I read the information about him.  I now have dates, facts...(Noticed that he is four years younger than Grandma... I've always said my Grandma was two generations ahead of her time, and she was a cougar long before the term was coined... Go Grandma!) I know who his kids are.  (And, hell YES, I want to contact them!)

Then, I started looking at the information for his parents.  And their parents.  That's when I got chills down my spine.

You see, my OTHER Grandma?  She was born and raised in St. Deroin.  St. Deroin is now part of Indian Cave State Park, and the legends of St. Deroin get told every year as part of the Haunted Hollows hay-rack ride through the park.  I grew up hearing these stories.  Tales of half-breed Indians, polygamy, gunfights... real Nebraska lore.  I even have a file folder full of research on St. Deroin, and a first-draft of an article about the area.

Murrell Brannan is no less than the great-step-grandson of THE Joseph DeRoin of St. Deroin notoriety--and his great-nephew.  Like I said, there was some interesting polygamy, and wife-swapping that went on down there. 

I practically had Murrell Brannan in my files all along!  It only took the one missing piece to link everything together.

Now, all my stories about Joseph DeRoin getting shot over a disputed pig and getting buried upright astride his horse?  Yup, I get to use them all!

I would have written about Murrell in "Tales from Table Rock" whether I had ever "found" him or not, but oh boy, am I grateful for Sandy.  This is truly a story-tellers dream come true!  What a rush!  I might even foray into historical fiction again sometime in the future...but only if Sandy is willing to go along for the ride!

As for now, I have a manuscript to finish!

And my carpet is all nice and clean smelling.

What does the carpet have to do with Murrell Brannan?  Not a thing...but I am a Gemini...