April 21, 2014

Interview with Deborah Hill, Author of This is the House

I was extremely lucky to get to interview Deborah Hill,  author of the Kingsland series. Her journey is a dream come true for many historical fiction writers. In 1975 her book, This is the House, sold 700,000 copies! It was inspired by a memoir that an ancestor of her husband's family left behind about his experiences in Cape Cod during the 18th and 19th centuries. The interview is below.  

Can you tell us a little about your new book and the series? Who are they for, etc.?
My latest book brings the Kingsland Series into the present. It began just after the Revolution, with This is the House, went on through the Clipper ship and Victorian Era with The House of Kingsley Merrick, and concludes with The Heir, which has just been released. They are historical novels, written for discerning readers who don’t mind a little spice along the way.
 How did you first get into genealogy? 
I’d have to say that genealogy got into me! My husband’s family was quite reticent about their background, perhaps because they were surrounded by it. Portraits, sizeable ones, lined the living room walls. Considering that the family home was a Cape (not too far from the house in my book), they were wedged in pretty tightly. My in-laws were using a lot of the old furnishings that may be glimpsed in The House of Kingsley Merrick; the rest was in the attic of the carriage barn. The local summer drama company often hauled this piece and that away as props. Once the four-poster bed that Mr. and Mrs. Allen used was taken. I never learned where they slept while the play was going on!

What was it about your husband’s family that inspired you so much?
The leading male character of This is the House, set off to trade with Europe at a time when no one had ever seen the American flag. Conveniently for me, he wrote a memoir for his grandchildren, describing his adventures, and did a rather fine job of it, so there it was – I could see for myself what was going on 200+ years ago. The next ancestor of interest started a coach line in Australia when their gold rush began. Public transportation still carries his name. As for The Heir – well, suffice it to say I did meet my husband on a windjammer cruise in Nantucket Sound, the details of which are recounted.  35 years ago I didn’t consider that as being “historical”, but now, apparently, it is.
Why did you choose to write historical fiction instead of a historical narrative?
In the first place, I’d always wanted to be an author. To write “the great American novel” had been my goal since childhood. Elijah’s diary was historical narrative, when you get right down to it, and very valuable to me. But writing such a document is just not my métier.
How much of your books are fiction and how much is fact?
I pride myself on the accuracy of the history in my books. All my characters are fictional, but some are based on actual people. I didn’t invent any of the history (I repeat, any!) though I moved the dates around as far as “Rockford” and “Waterford” are concerned, because I didn’t want to be seeing as writing the history of the real town on Cape Cod that they represent.
Did you have any problems while writing? 
Writing on a deadline was intimidating. I didn’t know how long it would take to develop the plotlines; it isn’t something I can specify ahead of time. This always seemed to confound the editors! But the characters would sometimes do something unexpected that was much more interesting than I had planned, and I always went where they led even if it slowed me down.
The house your ancestors lived in still stands and is now a museum. Did you know about the house prior to writing? Did it change how you portrayed your characters or the house itself?  
I’m afraid your information is incorrect. Elijah’s house isn’t a museum yet, though the Historical Society would like nothing better than to buy it to store (and, I suppose, show) their collection. It’s for sale –
Yes, I knew all about the house. I didn’t have a chance to go into it until a few years ago, but friend of the family had one just like it, and I used that as a template, sticking as close to its design as I could. It made a difference in the story line, so I was careful about that. When I did have a chance to explore it, I was satisfied that I’d done OK.
What advice do you have for people trying to research their ancestry?
I’m afraid I don’t have any advice. All the work had been done for me 100 years ago, when genealogy became important to the women in my husband’s family and their friends. Of course, the whole town was interwoven, so the genealogy of one family filled in a section (or two) of the genealogy of others. They intermarried a lot, which made things much easier.
You have been quite successful as an author. What do you think contributed to your success and what advice would you give to people writing about their family trees?
Timing. This is the House first appeared in 1975, right in time for the bi-centennial. As far as advising people who want to write about their family’s past, I would remind you that this family was not my own, so I could take liberties that directly related people probably wouldn’t do. The joy of fiction!

Thanks Deborah!

Check out her books! 

In addition to the Kingsland Series, she has also made the memoir of her husband's ancestor, Cape Cod mariner, Elijah Cobb, available. 

April 7, 2014

Neshaminy Reenactment 2014 ( Warning: Photo Heavy)

First event of the season! Beautiful weather for it. The sun was out but there was a little chilly wind and it is always better for an event to be a little cold than too hot. Neshaminy State Park is always beautiful at this time of year. It is located right by the water. The land was one of the original land grants from William Penn and was owned by his secretary in the late 1600s.

While no actual Civil War battle took place here, all of the money made from the event is used for preservation. Also, the event is unique in that spectators do not pay admission.

Photos from this year:



This guy talked to the spectators about what was going on during the battle. He said he's been reenacting for 25 years but can't fight in the battles anymore due to illness. He said he really missed it.


Philadelphia in the distance.

April 1, 2014

Secret Life of Bloggers Blog Party: Post 13

"Winter is on my head, but eternal spring is in my heart. The nearer I approach the end, the plainer I hear around me the immortal symphonies of the worlds which invite me.” -Victor Hugo

This week was bizarre. Instead of snow, we had pounding rain. We also had beautiful days. This week was a week of change. Spring is definitely among us. Everyone is awake and outdoors.


Got to make a really fun cake at work. I didn't design it, just made it. It was a lot of fun.



Smoke in the woods.


I don't write from a chair, I write from an old milk can that stays under my desk.


Finished sewing the signatures of a book I starting working on back in October. It's about time. :)


Spring is on it's way, the early flowers are poking their heads through the earth.


Went for a walk in the park in between the rain. The temperature was a nice 60 degrees though.

I've been having a lot of problems posting lately. Firefox doesn't seem to want to work at all. I was thinking of switching to Chrome but have really liked Firefox in all of the years that I've used it. I'm going to try uninstalling it and installing again so maybe it won't be such a hassle to get blogger to work. Have other bloggers been having problems?'

I can't wait for the summer, I got my first taste of spending all day outdoors, yesterday. It was glorious.

March 24, 2014

Brady Photos Might Show Lincoln Procession

Lincoln's assassination on April 15, 1865 shocked the nation. So soon after the official end of the Civil War, many soldiers were not yet home and many people were still celebrating the end and looking forward to their returning loved ones. 

As the first American president to be assassinated, Lincoln's funeral and procession were enormous. Lincoln was taken by train over 1,500 miles from Washington D.C. to Illinois. His coffin placed high in the hearse car so that it was in view of the crowds. The train never went over 20 mph to avoid accidents and stopped along the way for viewings where the body was removed from the train and brought through the streets on a horse-drawn hearse. His son Robert, accompanied his father's body for the duration of the trip along with the body of his brother, Willie who died in 1862 and was being buried along with his father. Mary Todd Lincoln did not make the trip. Newspapers printed schedules of when the train would hit cities and millions of people flocked to pay their respects.     

Until recently, there has not been much photographic evidence for the well documented funeral. Newspapers and letters detail the funeral. Paul Taylor, an enthusiast in Maryland, may have rediscovered photos in the Brady collection depicting the event. The photos appear to have been taken from the upper floor of the Brady studio in New York.   

At this point, the photos likely depict the event but it is difficult to confirm for sure as the labels attached to the photos did not mention Lincoln. 

There is a group trying to recreate Lincoln's Funeral train and route for the 150th anniversary of his death next year.

March 21, 2014

Secret Life of Bloggers Blog Party: Post 12

Happy Friday! The weather is beautiful! This is a very short blog party post. Stay tuned. I'm hoping to have two posts up next week.


Spoke too soon. We had a beautiful warm day and the next day, this happened. 


Made Irish Soda bread in honor of St. Patrick's Day. Here is the recipe.


Bought a new camera and had very little time to test it out before the sun went down. I really like it already and had been saving for quite some time.

Since my camera is new, I've spent a lot of time taking photos of everything just to get a feel for it and to see how it handles.


Unfortunately this week, the camera was glued to my hand more than normal.


March 17, 2014

Behind the Screen: Secret Life of Bloggers Blog Party: Post 11

Recently, I haven't been posting much and when I have, the posts have been blog party posts. I feel bad because I dislike that my content is so party heavy right now and not so history heavy.

I started the blog party for me, as a way to see what other bloggers were up to and to get to know them better. I didn't think the posts would be very interesting to many people but I thought the bloggers would like them. I am very surprised that they are some of my highest viewed posts.  So I thought I'd answer the question that many of you, might be wondering: Why the Secret Life of Bloggers Blog Party?

A while back a lot of bloggers were discussing how they felt their blogs misrepresent them as people. They were looking at various forms of social media and feeling that "facebook envy" that creeps up when it looks like everyone else in the world has it together and is doing interesting and exciting things. Many bloggers spent tons of time to make their posts look perfect on the screen.  But, then they realized just how much their blogs were misrepresenting their own lives. Through their blogs, their lives were sterile and perfect. Dinners looked like they came straight off of pinterest, rooms were always tidy and perfection came effortlessly.

What was on the screen was worlds away from how they felt their lives really were and they wanted to let their readers know that they are real people too. It was fascinating to see the "behind the scenes" from some of my favorite bloggers.

I didn't feel that my blog made my life more perfect than it was but I did feel that when I met people who read my blog that they thought that history was the only thing in my life when it is actually just one part of my life.

I'm a huge history geek, that's no secret, but there is also more to me and my life. Despite popular belief, I actually spend more time at work than at reenactments. :)  I also have an equal love for reading, writing, photography and art as I do history. So I do enjoy getting to share the other things I am doing. It makes me feel better represented.


I finally got my computer monitor calibrated so now I can print photos!


Spent a good amount of time fooling with my camera.

 Worked at another bakery, than the one I normally work at. They had a lot of old, dirty textured items that I thought would be really fun to take photos of. 


Went with my dad to the hardware store to look at tile.

 Got my finger in the bread slicer at work. Good thing it only got my nail! That could have been bad.


Spring is almost here!

March 12, 2014

Adventures in Breadmaking

I've been trying to learn to make bread for the longest time. It never seemed to come out right. I was always interested in learning but I do admit, my interest peaked when blogger, Marmota, talked about bread in the Czech Republic and how much she missed it when she visited America.

 She referred to the"white, tasteless sponge that the Western world calls 'bread.'" The more I thought about it, the more I agreed that American white bread is severely underwhelming and sort of tastes like white glue.  It is very rare in the US for people to make their own bread or to buy anything other than a prepackaged loaf full of preservatives and who-knows-what. I am slowly trying to move away from pre-made foods and transfer to raw ingredients and homemade food. I developed a lot of bad eating habits in college due to time constraints and stress.

I eventually want to learn to make artisan loaves but I thought a good place to start would be to use a bread maker and work up to formed loaves.

As it's been on the list of things to do for a few years, Andy and I finally went out and bought a bread maker at a thrift store and had a ton of fun learning to use it. I hope to use it more often and if anyone has some good recipes to try, please leave me a comment.

Potato Bread Recipe


-2 Cups cooked, mashed Potatoes
-1/2 cup Water from cooking the potatoes
-1/2 cup Milk + more for glazing
-2 Tablespoons Sunflower Oil
-4 1/2 Cups Unbleached White Bread Flour
-1 1/2 Teaspoons Salt
-2 Teaspoons Sugar
-1 1/2 Teaspoons Yeast

The ingredients were placed in the bread maker according to the maker's instructions, which simply enough involved keeping the yeast, sugar and oil separate from each other. At about 20 minutes before the loaf was finished, we glazed the top of the loaf with extra milk using a pastry brush.  The bread maker took care of the rest and out popped a delicious loaf.

I'd like to learn more about converting bread machine recipes to oven baked ones. I really hope to find a very yummy whole wheat sandwich loaf. For those of you interested in purchasing a bread maker, they really are handy.

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