There are so many literary agents, whose wish-lists read: "Send me stories that cross multiple genre boundaries!"
Sometimes family sagas do cross fictional lines. That's really the way of all historical fiction--the author must create plot when historical threads of truth vanish for a time frame or entirely. And now that record-keeping is mostly digital and much easier to locate and store, genealogy and family trees have become passionate pastimes for many people who crave to know more about their roots.
Author R.J. Lloyd is one such person. With a keen interest in his family's history, he is sharing with us this week, a little about his journey into his own genealogy and ancestry--mysterious as it soon became. And just as so many people often find, there are deadends followed by surprises along the way.
I'd like to welcome R.J. Lloyd to Brook's Journal and for those of you with a fascination in learning about your family's history, his book should inspire you.
Read on, everybody!
Researching a Family Saga
By R.J. Lloyd
Burning Secret is a true story. Well, almost. The novel blurs the lines between fact and fiction as it reconstructs the life of Enoch Price, my great-great-grandfather, and is a story many can relate to through their ancestors and family histories.
My interest in family history began around 1995, shortly after my father's death, and about the same time, my mother began suffering from dementia. It suddenly struck me that there were so many questions I hadn't asked them about their lives. I, of course, knew when and where they were born and where they had married. And we had often looked through the family photo album together. I knew my father had fought during the war and had come home to start a bakery with his brother, but there were so many gaps. I was now in a hurry to collect as much information as I could from elderly relatives before they, too, passed on.
When I began my search, it was before digital and online records, when everything was done by pencil and paper, legwork and often fruitless journeys to distant record offices.
However, by 2010, I had traced my family back to the fifteenth century, and I had gone as far as I could manage. There was, however, one missing piece, and it was quite a large hole. After years of extensive research, I still couldn't track down my great-great-grandfather, Enoch Price, whose wife, Eliza, had, in living memory, helped raise my mother as a child.
As a young girl, my mother could remember hushed conversations about her nan's husband, Enoch, leaving the family to open a corset factory in Florida.
I searched all the usual sources: birth, deaths and marriages, census records, newspapers, trade directories, police and court records, ship manifests, emigration and military records. I had even hired a private detective in Florida. If there was an available record, I had searched it, both here and in America. Enoch Price had plenty of references from the time of his birth in Bristol in 1844 until his disappearance in 1881, which is when he was listed in the London Gazette as a bankrupt living at Harold Street, Bethnal Green, London, with his wife, Eliza and three daughters. He then vanishes off the face of the Earth. Records for his wife and daughters continued in Bristol until their deaths.
In June 2011, my cousin Gillian, a skilled family history researcher, called to say she had found him through a fluke encounter. Susan Sperry from California, who had recently retired, decided to explore the box of documents given to her thirty years before by her mother, which she had never opened. In the box, she found references to her great-grandfather, Harry Mason, a wealthy hotel owner and powerful American politician from Jacksonville, Florida, who had died in 1919. It soon transpired that Susan's great-grandfather, Harry Mason, was, in fact, Enoch Price. From this single thread, the extraordinary story of Harry Mason began to unravel, leading me to visit the States to meet my American cousins. It was Susan Sperry and Kimberly Mason, direct descendants, who persuaded me to write Burning Secret, not as a biography, but as a historical thriller, merging fact with fiction, to tell the story of the extraordinary adventurer, rogue and chancer that Enoch, or should I say Harry, was.
Burning Secret took another eleven years to research and write, and sadly, both Susan and Kimberly passed away before the novel was complete.
Harry is buried at Evergreen Cemetery, Jacksonville, Florida.
All About the Book
Inspired by actual events, Burning Secret is a dramatic and compelling tale of ambition, lies and betrayal.
Born in the slums of Bristol in 1844, Enoch Price seems destined for a life of poverty and hardship-but he’s determined not to accept his lot.
Enoch becomes a bare-knuckle fighter in London’s criminal underworld. But in a city where there’s no place for honest dealing, a cruel loan shark cheats him, leaving Enoch penniless and facing imprisonment.
Undaunted, he escapes to a new life in America and embarks on a series of audacious exploits. But even as he helps shape history, Enoch is not content. Tormented by his past and the life he left behind, Enoch soon becomes entangled in a web of lies and secrets.
Will he ever break free and find the happiness he craves?
Influenced by real people and events, Enoch’s remarkable story is one of adventure, daring, political power, deceit and, in the end, the search for redemption and forgiveness.
All About R.J. Lloyd
After retiring as a senior police officer, R J Lloyd turned his detective skills to genealogy, tracing his family history to the 16th century. However, after 15 years of extensive research, he couldn’t track down his great-great-grandfather, Enoch Price, whose story is the focus of Burning Secret.
R J Lloyd graduated from the University of Warwick with a degree in Philosophy and Psychology and a Masters in Marketing from UWE. Since leaving a thirty-year career in policing, he’s been a non-executive director with the NHS, social housing, and other charities. He lives with his wife in Bristol, spending his time travelling, writing and producing delicious plum jam from the trees on his award-winning allotment.
Connect with R.J.
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