Dr. Bill's first passion is family history. His second is a passion for creating family saga, historical fiction stories that share it.
The stories were from the 1890s in rural America
Creation of an 1890 Census for the Oak Creek Township
In sharing the stories of “The Homeplace Saga” in McDonald Tales (MTx), Bevins Tales (BTx) and Levi Weston (Lx in the Weston Wagons West) episodes into the early 1890s, I find that we have left other growth in the Oak Creek valley and Oak Springs behind. The last census with full details was created for 1885. It now became time to update the census to 1890. I had not originally planned to create detailed stories of this era in the valley, but the characters seem to demand it of me, so the background work must also be created in order to tell meaningful and authentic stories. It appears that an 1895 census will not be far behind.
One of the first ‘control’ elements of creating the updated census information is to create, that is, add children to each of the families so as to have the school information up to date. This then creates the numbers, and names, of new valley residents that can marry, find occupations, and create families of their own. To be realistic, numbers and gender mixes must be appropriate to the situation. Where there are shortfalls, for example, when 9th graders only have 4 students where the average is 6-7, they must be found/created. We do this by adding a few new families coming in from outside the valley, either to farm or bring new business or professions to town. This time, one of the families had twins of the 9th grade age. How convenient. Other children then are created to fill in other gaps to keep the balances needed. What fun! I look at actual census records of nearby communities to identify occupations that can be realistically added. [For the genealogists among my readers, there were actually a few 1890 census forms available, even singed around the edges…amazing…but had good name/occupation information to use.]
One more pass through the data on the census seeks information on the other end of the age spectrum. Who is of retirement age? Who will be dying in the next five years. These notes are then used to decide which are significant (e.g. pioneers) and which are not, to be included in future stories. Since there are many farm families, especially, do they have young family members that will continue on the farm? How will that work out? Similarly, for families with businesses, will a son or daughter stay and work in, eventually take over, that business? Personal experience here with intergenerational transfer is most useful…also very frustrating. When will “Dad” be ready to hand over ‘his operations’ to the next generation? Ever? Good story material, by the way. It is not always the oldest son/daughter that gets to succeed to the farm/business ownership. Times change, so do such decisions. Have you found that to be true?
Our stories are based on the families and children living in the valley
High School Graduates Create Special Opportunities and Problems
By keeping a running tally of each class through the school system, it has been especially fascinating to project the outcome for each student. So far, I’ve focused on a couple of classes at a time, because some of their students were integral to the stories we were creating. With the jump now, from 1885 to 1890, I found I had about 12 or so males, and 12 or so females, that had not yet been ‘designated’ - they were just sitting there. Did a few go off to college? Did some just leave? Did some stay on the farm, or in the shop, hoping to take over from a parent? Did they marry or not? Who to? This became a matching game, with consideration to the part of the valley of their residence, how they fit in the family, family history (college or not of siblings?), need for new occupational workers, etc. And, at every instance, the balance of age, gender, occupation, family position needed to be maintained or at least considered. Perceived family to family relationships also must be considered. They certainly are in actual families.
It was also critical to not allow myself to get too mechanical in the process. What was really going on in communities in this time period (or any time period)? I mentioned the use of the new twins, earlier. That was the first time I had used twins. Interesting. This time, I had a 30ish young lawyer come to town. Needed a spouse. Aren’t many (any?) 30ish single women. Had him marry a 22 year old, so we could have a new family. Not unusual, just different. Very with ‘the times.’ I am also careful to create a few strong, independent women, a few bachelors (that was easy for the time period), and a couple of interesting same sex relationships (again, keeping the times in mind…). Also one very ‘obvious’ couple were not a couple at all. Really just good friends. Years later, they found a useful relationship that allowed them to continue that ‘friendship’ satisfactory to each of them.
Had one other ‘couple’ that coupled well, but just didn’t fit well anywhere. He had an older brother already on the farm, with a family. No good place in town to put them. Marked them as ‘moved out of town.’ Problem solved. Could have them move back, sometime, if they ‘acquire a new skill set.’ ;-) Actually have done this a few times. Have had students go to college, come back as teachers. One went off to agriculture college, came back to family farm. It was rare in these times, but did happen, so, happened here.
We will continue to develop the background information on the 1890s
The 1890s and early 1900s were times of rapid change, in technology, etc. My town here is an isolated rural community, no railroad. It is a challenge to know exactly what might have been taking place, but that will come with more research, of course. I also want to add more ‘unusual’ events. I’ve had a teenager drown. I’ve had a suicide. I need other random unusual deaths. Mule kick to the head, for example. Have one of those in my actual family history, so should add that. Had an older couple die in carriage upset. Not too many of these. I’m trying to stay as real as possible.
It is probably time to try the Presbyterian Church, again. Failed first time, but still a couple of folks in town want it, new folks have moved in. My home town in 1900 had at least 4 ministers in 1900, but the town was a bit larger, not so isolated. Competition is always good for a story, right?
Also have critical death coming up, early son of a pioneer, born in the valley, time for him to go, in the mid-1890s, so that will be a challenge to work on. His death will change the lives of a number of people, as well as the ‘balance of power’ among the business community. Will need some new town leaders to emerge as the century comes to an end. Also, when and how to add electricity to the town. The time is coming. How and when? Who will lead the way to making a decision? Who will object? How will it be resolved?
William Leverne Smith (author) from Hollister, MO on August 14, 2018:
Thank you, Sha, for your visit and your comment. I always enjoy seeing your name pop up on my notifications!! Today, actually, I was catching up with the Town Council and School Board elections, that weren't included in stories. Needed 'to know' who was on the Council in the mid-1890s...they will be deciding about getting a generating plant for electricity in Oak Springs as the new century approaches... Always more research to be done!! ;-)
Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on August 14, 2018:
Bill, your thought process is fascinating. You're meticulous in your research to make your sagas as real as possible.
I'm sorry I haven't been following your latest. I got so far behind in my reading that there was no way I was going to catch up and stay current with a series.
William Leverne Smith (author) from Hollister, MO on August 12, 2018:
You have a real challenge, as well, Virginia. Hard to not jump to conclusions, but must seek all available information. Local newspapers are becoming available that can really help fill in details. ;-)
William Leverne Smith (author) from Hollister, MO on August 12, 2018:
Thank you, Bill. It is a challenge. I appreciate your support! ;-)
Virginia Allain from Central Florida on August 12, 2018:
Quite interesting to see how your research on demographics aids your storyline.
I'm concentrating on 1910 in Tyro, Kansas right now in trying to picture my ancestors' life at that time. It brings to mind scenes from The Music Man but one family was quite poor with my great-grandmother widowed and listed as laundress in the census. Lots of work still to do.
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on August 12, 2018:
It's a fascinating project you have undertaken, and those of us who read your work are the benefactors.