After a long day of genealogical research, what could be more satisfying than curling up with a good book about genealogical research?! Nathan Dylan Goodwin’s new book The Sterling Affair promises a satisfying return journey into the life of forensic genealogist Morton Farrier.
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The Sterling Affair by Nathan Dylan Goodwin
Goodwin sets the scene of his new book as follows:
“When an unannounced stranger comes calling at Morton Farrier’s front door, he finds himself faced with the most intriguing and confounding case of his career to-date as a forensic genealogist. He agrees to accept the contract to identify a man who had been secretly living under the name of his new client’s long-deceased brother.
Morton must use his range of resources and research skills to help him deconstruct this mysterious man’s life, ultimately leading him back into the murky world of 1950s international affairs of state.”
A Conversation with Author Nathan Dylan Goodwin
Don’t worry, we won’t be spoiling the exciting read you have ahead of you. Today I will be chatting with Nathan about his life as an author, his writing process, and how the main character, Morton Farrier, almost didn’t make it past the first book!
Lisa Louise Cooke: The Sterling Affair is your eighth novel in the Morton Farrier genealogical crime mystery series. When you first began writing the series did you imagine an eighth book? And today can you imagine even more?
Nathan: I literally had no concept that there would be so many books in the series! At first, it was written as a one-off, then I started to have ideas for two or three more.
I think when I wrote book three, The Orange Lilies, I knew that the series had plenty more scope, especially as DNA-testing was just beginning for genealogists, opening up a whole new world of potential storylines! As to the future of the series, I’m currently plotting books nine and ten. I don’t see an end to the series just yet!
Click the book image to order your copy.
Lisa Louise Cooke: I heard you speak at THE Genealogy Show conference in Birmingham England in 2019. In that presentation you told the audience that you almost killed off Morton at the end of the first book. I imagine you’re glad now that he survived. What exactly happened back then?
Nathan: Killing Morton would have been the most stupid thing I could have done!
I started writing Hiding the Past (the first book in the series) as part of my studies for a Master’s Degree in creative writing and I think I’d been reading a novel at the time, which went along the lines of ‘if you’re reading this then I’m dead’. I thought this angle might work for the first draft of my story but thankfully, as the book progressed, I was able to see several plotlines, which could continue into further stories.
I knew from the outset that I wanted the main character, Morton Farrier, to have been adopted and be totally unaware of his biological family, so there was plenty of scope there to continue that subplot in future books.
Lisa Louise Cooke: How has the advent of DNA testing changed the course of your writing?
Nathan: DNA-testing has completely changed the course of my writing—in a good way, I like to think! There are now so many more possibilities for Morton to solve his cases in different ways.
Morton took an Ancestry DNA test back in 2014 when it had not yet even become possible in the UK. He did what I had to do, which was to order one in the US and have a friend ship it over, then post it back to the US for testing and analysis!
From that point onwards, DNA has played an ever-increasing role in helping Morton to solve his cases. In the most recent book, The Sterling Affair, Morton uses a variety of real tools and websites which are familiar to genealogists.
Lisa Louise Cooke: When you start a book like The Sterling Affair, do you already have it well mapped out, or are there surprises even for you along the way as to the path it will take?
Nathan: I usually spend at least three months conducting research for the books. This involves reading, visiting record offices, libraries, churches, etc. Basically, anything which Morton does in the book, I do first.
Photo courtesy of Nathan Dylan Goodwin
At the point when I actually start writing I probably have about 60% of the storyline mapped out. It’s a big cliché to say so, but for me the characters really do come to life and do things which I hadn’t anticipated. For the first few books I found it a little unnerving to be starting to write something that I didn’t know pretty well 100% what was going to happen, but now I trust myself and I know I’ll get to the end if I let the characters lead the way!
Lisa Louise Cooke: Where do you get your inspiration for the story lines in your books?
Nathan: My ideas come from a variety of sources, but never by actively searching for the next story; I just seem to stumble on a nugget of an idea, which I think could make for an interesting genealogical crime mystery and make a note of it! It can be a news story involving history or genealogy in some way, something I’ve picked up from a family history publication, or a Facebook group where people share their own genealogical mysteries.
Increasingly, the books have more real-life characters, plotlines and locations. For example, The Spyglass File, which is set on the frontline of Kent during the Battle of Britain, was loosely based on my grandmother’s story, whereby she gave birth to an illegitimate child in 1943, whom she put up for adoption whilst my grandfather was a POW in Thailand.
Nathan’s Grandmother – Photo courtesy of Nathan Dylan Goodwin.
The Sterling Affair is based on nefarious goings-on during the 1950s and involves real undercover MI6 operations and real spies. The idea for this story came from the National Archives newsletter, which mentioned the release of some previously closed MI6 records. This got me thinking about someone trying to conceal their real identity and Morton having to use his skills to work out who he might be!
Lisa Louise Cooke: For those new to your books, they will see that this is the eighth novel in the series and wonder if it’s too late to join in. Can the book be read and enjoyed as a stand-alone novel?
Nathan: I always say that the books can be read as a stand-alone, but you would be missing out on Morton’s backstory. However, with The Sterling Affair there is not too much given away about his own past, so, of all of the stories, this is the most readable out of sequence!
Lisa Louise Cooke: When you’re not writing about Morton Farrier, what is your favorite way to spend free time?
Nathan: I’m not sure what you mean by ‘free time’!? Obviously, I spend a lot of time on genealogy. I’ve been researching my own family for thirty years now and I feel very fortunate to be able to combine my two loves of writing and genealogy. Aside from that, I enjoy reading, running, skiing, theatre and spending time with my family, friends and dog.
Lisa Louise Cooke: You’re a man of many talents. Do you have other “wishlist” projects you yearn to do in addition to writing?
Nathan: I enjoy photography and would like to develop that at some point in the future and I really would like to take a watercolour painting class at some point. I just need some of that free time you mentioned!
A man of many talents – Photography by Nathan Dylan Goodwin
Lisa Louise Cooke: I’ll be at RootsTech again this year. Will we see you there?
Nathan: I shall have a booth at RootsTech SLC this year signing books and also at THE Genealogy Show in Birmingham once again. So people can come and say hello and let me know what they think of my stories. I love chatting with my readers!
Hear More from Nathan Dylan Goodwin
Read and hear more from genealogical author Nathan Dylan Goodwin in the following exclusive Genealogy Gems content:
- Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 180 features an Interview with Nathan Dylan Goodwin author of The Lost Ancestor.
- Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 179 features a discussion of The Lost Ancestor by Nathan Dylan Goodwin.
- Interview with Nathan Dylan Goodwin: Genealogy Gems Book Club – In this article from 2015 Nathan discusses the second book in the Morton Farrier series, The Lost Ancestor.
- Listen to the full-length Genealogy Gems Book Club interview with Nathan Dylan Goodwin, as he discusses The Lost Ancestor (The Forensic Genealogist) in Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode 125 (exclusive for Genealogy Gems Premium Members.)
- Listen to our interview with Nathan Dylan Goodwin about his The Wicked Trade and The Suffragette’s Secret in Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode 159 (exclusive for Genealogy Gems Premium Members.
Catch up on the Morton Farrier
Learn more about the entire book series featuring Morton Farrier here in this Genealogy Gems Book Club article.
90 years ago, on page 1 of the Ford News 12/15/1923, Henry Ford shared the following Christmas Greeting: “Christmas stands for the human factor which makes life tolerable midst the hurry of commerce and production. All of us need the annealing effect of Christ’s example to relieve the hardening we get in the daily struggle for material success.”
In the following short film from the vaults of the National Archives the Ford Motor Company wishes “A Merry Christmas to All” in 1926:
National Archives Collection FC: Ford Motor Company Collection, ca. 1903 – ca. 1954
Production Date: ca. 1926
Earlier that year Ford Motor Company became one of the first companies in America to adopt a five-day, 40-hour week for their employees in its automotive factories. The policy started in May with the factory workers and extended to office workers in August.
The decision to reduce the workweek from six to five days had been made in the year before. According to an article published in The New York Times that March, Edsel Ford, Henry’s son and the company’s president, explained that “Every man needs more than one day a week for rest and recreation….The Ford Company always has sought to promote [an] ideal home life for its employees. We believe that in order to live properly every man should have more time to spend with his family.”
Have you ever thought to use passport applications for genealogy–to search for your immigrant or traveling ancestors?
Passports were issued in the U.S. beginning in the late 1700s, but weren’t required except during times of war until 1941. These records can be an excellent place to learn an immigrant’s date of arrival, the arrival ship and date of naturalization (if naturalized).
Two Quick Tips for Researching U.S. Passports for Genealogy
- Passports expired every few years, so people reapplied. You may find multiple applications for those who traveled abroad more than once. Subsequent applications will refer back to a prior one.
- In earlier years, look for married women and minor children in group passports issued under the name of the head of household.
Where to Find Passport Applications
A Page of History: Passport Applications by Phil Golfarb
Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast Episode 124 interview with author Phil Goldfarb on the history of passport applications and celebrity passport stories. Available to Genealogy Gems Premium members.
Family History Made Easy podcast for free, step-by-step beginner and back-to-basics genealogy education
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Dahlgren gun on a Civil War ship (Photo Public Domain)
Recently Tom wrote in with a question about a Civil War veterans database:
“I’ve been a listener of your podcast for quite a long time. Great job.
“We have a grass-roots group trying to locate and document Civil War Veterans buried in Washington state. Is there a good website where I can enter a name and unit identification and get results of the person’s [Civil War] service? I’m having a really hard time finding US Navy sailors.”
It sounds like Tom is conducting a very worthwhile project! (We added the link above to the website for the project, in case you’re interested.) An excellent resource–still in progress for sailors with only about 20% of them–is The Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System (CWSS).
The site describes its resources as a “database containing information about the men who served in the Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War. Other information on the site includes histories of Union and Confederate regiments, links to descriptions of significant battles, and selected lists of prisoner-of-war records and cemetery records, which will be amended over time.”
This is an excellent resource for soldiers. As far as sailors go: “The Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System currently contains the records of approximately 18,000 African American sailors, though additional records will be added in the future. The information in the Sailors Database is derived from enlistment records and the quarterly muster rolls of Navy vessels. Approximately half of the sailors entered the service at the Navy’s established points of enlistment. For these men and women, enlistment records serve as the primary sources of information. The Howard University research team used muster rolls to fill in missing data or to correct apparent misinformation recorded at the time of enlistment. Information about the remainder of the enlistees was derived directly from these muster rolls. When research uncovered inconsistencies in the data (such as conflicting reports of an individual’s age at the time of enlistment) the most frequently recorded response was used.”
“Descendants of Civil War sailors will find biographical details regarding age, place of birth, and occupation that may help supplement or clarify details from such other sources of genealogical information as birth, death, and census records. Moreover, information about any individual sailor’s enlistment and service is necessary for determining the presence or absence of their pension records at the National Archives.” Click here to read an article from the National Archives about African-American servicemen in the Navy in the Civil War. I covered the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors database in the free Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 149. Be sure to check out the show notes page (click the link I’ve provided.) There you’ll find the information written out for you and the links I discuss in the episode.
Manchester Men available free at Google Books
If a Navy ancestor isn’t among those already listed, my first instinct is always to turn to Google searches first. I ran a search in Google Books for free (fully digitized) books meeting the criteria “civil war” “sailors” and there are some resources there as well. Here’s a link to the search results. One example is the book shown here to the left: Manchester Men, which appears to be a published list of those who served from Manchester, N.H. (click on the book cover to read it in Google Books). Learn more about Google searching for “niche” topics like this in the fully-revised and updated edition of my book, The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox.
Historic U.S. newspapers are featured in this week’s new and updated records collections, including Hawaii, Colorado, Georgia, and North Carolina. Also new this week are updated New York passenger lists, vital records for England, Welsh newspapers, military and census records for Canada, and Austrian parish records.
Historic U.S. Newspapers & More
This week we were delighted to see lots of historic U.S. newspaper made available online. Newspapers are a fantastic way to find clues about your ancestors, especially when vital records are elusive, and also learn about their daily lives.
Hawaii. If you have family from Hawaii or are interested in Hawaiian history, then you’ll definitely want to check out these three new titles added to Newspapers.com:
In 2010, the Adviser and Star-Bulletin were merged to create the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. If you’re looking for ancestors or other family members in these papers, good places to start include personals columns, society pages, local interest columns, and the like.
Colorado. History Colorado (HC) recently digitized and added two historic Denver African-American newspapers: Statesman (1905-1912), and The Denver Star (1912-1918). While these papers covered news from African-American communities in “Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and the West,” they also covered local news from Denver’s Five Points district. These newspapers cover Denver’s African American culture and community, including its residents, businesses, and aspects of everyday life.
Georgia. Georgia Perimeter College Collection is now available online. The digital collection includes yearbooks, catalogs, and student newspapers from the 1960s to the 2010s. You can browse the collection by decade, date, format, or by the name of the institution at the time each item was published.
North Carolina. The newspaper of Belmont Abbey College in Belmont, NC has been digitized and made available online. There are 44 issues are available to browse spanning from 1971-1979 with issues published every other month. Among the news headlines are graduations, alumni news, fundraising campaigns, appointments of new abbots, and changes on campus reflective of this decade’s larger cultural movements.
New York. MyHeritage has updated their collection of Ellis Island and Other New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957. This collection contains millions of records of individuals arriving at the port of New York, including individuals who arrived at three well-known immigrant processing stations: Castle Garden (1855-1890), the Barge Office (1890-1892), and Ellis Island (1892-1957).
England – Portsmouth Collection
Findmypast has an exciting new collection for Portsmouth, Hampshire. This collection of scanned images of original handwritten documents contains more than 1.3 million historical records spanning 1538 – 1917. When complete, the collection will be the largest repository of Portsmouth family history records available online. Click the links below to explore the 5 collections:
Also new this week from The British Newspaper Archive is the Ross Gazette. This newspaper is published by Tindle Newspapers in Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire, England, spanning 1867 – 1910. This collection currently has over 2,000 issues available now, with more continuing to be added.
Even more historic newspapers are new this week as we head over to Wales. The British Newspaper Archive recently added the Rhyl Journal (Clywd, 1877 – 1897) and Cambrian News (Dyfed, 1863 – 1882) to their database.
Though these collections are relatively small, they can provide wonderful clues and details about your ancestors living in Wales in the 19th century.
Canada – Military and Census Records
New for Canada this week are Certificates of Military Instruction at Fold3, which includes records from 1867 to 1932. There were initially two types of certificates: First Class (battalion-level officers) and Second Class (company-level officers). The information you can find in the certificates in this collection typically includes the man’s name, rank, and residence; the certificate type and date; and the name and location of the school.
The 1921 Canadian Census is now available for free at the Library and Archives Canada. The 1921 Census marked the sixth regularly scheduled collection of national statistics. It officially began on June 1, 1921. This research tool contains 8,800,617 records that are searchable by name.
Austria – Parish Records
Over at Ancestry.com, a new collection of Salzburg Catholic Baptisms, Marriages, and Burials, 1600-1930 is now available. From the description: “This collection contains parish registers from numerous Catholic communities in the city Salzburg, Austria as well as numerous communities that today are part of the Austrian state of Salzburg.” Note that these records are in German, and you should search using German words and location spellings.
Native American Records
Do you have Native American ancestry? Or are you interested in Native American history? Then explore Fold3’s Native American Collection for free November 1-15, 2017. Their unique collection includes records, documents, and photos never before seen online. All you need is a free Fold3 account to start exploring!
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