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.
Old maps can tell us a lot more than just where our ancestors lived: They put events into geographic context, reveal surprising genealogical clues, and can be incorporated into Google Earth for analysis and storytelling.
It used to be pretty difficult to find old maps to use in your family history research, but it is a lot easier these days. Libraries and archives are digitizing them and putting them online. And in the newest episode (#92) of the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast I’ll tell you about a terrific example of a website that has set the goal of have every image they possess (allowable by copyright) digitized and on their website by early 2013
Also in this episode I’m going to tell you about something pretty shocking that happened to me recently while speaking at an international genealogy conference. I was really taken by surprise, and received some unexpected questions. I will share those with you as well as some solid answers.
It’s another packed episode. If you are a member sign in now to start listening.
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Scandinavian genealogy records for this week pique the interest of researchers all over the world. Large collections of records for Sweden and Finland are among the list of new and updated genealogical records. Other collections include records for London, Ireland, and the United States. Oh! One last thing. We’ve added a Google search strategy you won’t want to miss!
Sweden – Church Records
FamilySearch recently updated a collection of church records for Sweden titled “Sweden, Gävleborg Church Records, 1616-1908; index 1671-1860,” this week. The collection includes church records from the county of Gävleborg. These church records include clerical surveys; registers of birth, marriages, and deaths; move-in and move-out lists; confirmations; and church accounts.
The digital images span the years of 1616-1908, however the records that are searchable by index (at this time) only include the years between 1671 and 1860. When browsing through the digital images that have not been indexed, you will want to search by parish, then by record type, and lastly, the volume and year.
Finland – Church Records
MyHeritage has published an impressive collection of 33 million Finnish historical records! This collection of church census books and pre-confirmation books were kept by the Lutheran Church in Finland. The reason these records are so important is that the Lutheran Church was the state religion for hundreds of years. Because of that, the church records essentially cover the entire population of Finland.
In rural areas, the church book records are organized by village, farm, and household. Within the cities these records were organized by quarter or street.
It is important for researchers to realize that Finland was part of Sweden until 1809. Church census records and pre-confirmation records were consequently written in Swedish until the mid-to-late 1800s. Don’t forget – FamilySearch wiki will give you a language cheat-sheet so you can get help with translating!
United Kingdom – London – Post Office Directories
London Post Office Directories 1842, 1851 and 1861, a browse only database at this time, is now available at Findmypast. You can browse over 1.5 million records from three London Post Office Directories. These directories include lists of traders, bankers, people employed by the crown, lawyers, and other officials. Though not indexed, they list names alphabetically by surname. You may be able to find your ancestor’s occupation, business address, or even their home address!
United Kingdom – Westminster
This collection from Westminster, Poor Law and Parish Administration includes over 1.7 million records. The parish administration was over several commissions and these records include bastardy papers, admissions, examinations, pauper records, valuations, and work house records.
Because there are so many different types of records in this collection, the amount of genealogically valued data will vary. Transcripts and digital images of the original documents are provided and can be searched by name, year, place, and record type.
Ireland – General Register Office Records
Irish Genealogy.ie has just released millions of personal records online for free! Births, marriages, and deaths are from the General Register Office. The expanded database includes the Birth Records Indexes from 1864 to 1914, the Marriage Records Indexes from 1845 (1864 for Roman Catholic Marriages) to 1939, and the Death Records Indexes from 1864 to 1964. To search these records, click here. You will find them under the Civil Records menu heading.
United States – New York City, Philadelphia, & Washington D.C. Newspapers
18th-century newspapers from three early capitals of the U.S. are new on the Chronicling America website. Browse through these digital newspapers for information about your ancestors. Nearly 15,000 pages have been added from The Gazette of the United States (New York, N.Y. and Philadelphia, Pa., 1789-1801), the National Gazette (Philadelphia, Pa., 1791-1793), and the National Intelligencer (Washington, D.C. 1800-1809). For even more information on how to boost your genealogy success using newspapers, check out Lisa’s book, “How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers,” in a digital e-book or traditional book form.
More Gems on Scandinavian Genealogy Records
Our Genealogy Google Guru Lisa Louise Cooke has a few more ideas for gaining access to more records and information about your Scandinavian ancestors. Here’s what Lisa says:
“You’ve probably already tried searching with Google to find more on your ancestors. But have you searched in Swedish, Finnish, or Norwegian? Start by going to Google Translate and entering your search query in English.
Google Translate will detect that you have typed in English. You’ll need to select the desired language from the drop-down menu in the box on the right. Above, I’ve selected Swedish. Google Translate has now translated my query. Highlight and copy the translated text.
Next, go to the Swedish version of Google, which you’ll find at https://www.google.se/. Paste the translation in the search box. I’ve changed “Otter” back to the actual name of the town “Otterstad,” because I didn’t need that to be translated! Here are my search results:
Notice, each webpage search result has a link you can click to “Translate this page.” Click it and you’ll go to that page, but it will appear in English!
I’m thrilled to see my husband’s great-great-grandfather’s name in this bottom result. I’m off to work on this family…have fun with Google Translate and the Scandinavian Googles!” – Lisa
Isn’t that an awesome search strategy?! This is exactly the kind of outside-the-box thinking Lisa is known for which she covers more in-depth in her book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox Second Edition. In fact, there’s an entire chapter in the book about how to use Google Translate in exciting, innovative ways for genealogy.
Here are the links Lisa sent me for the various Scandinavian Googles:
And finally, here’s more on Scandinavian research from our website:
Get inspired by these heritage home decor ideas! Sharing family history in displays around the house inspires conversation, reinforces your family’s identity, and creates beautiful surroundings. Genealogy gift ideas: give these as gifts for your loved ones’ homes (or get them as gifts for yourself).
4 Heritage Home Decor Ideas
Family Tree Wall Decor
I love how this gorgeous black tree design anchors a heritage wall display. This design would look great with current pictures of grandkids and other loved ones, or with older pictures of ancestors. Sometimes when your heritage photos are all different sizes and styles (and you don’t have a dozen matching frames) it’s hard to figure out how to hang them together. But as you can see, the display looks great with different size images and frames!
Here’s another style I think you’ll like, too. It’s a great design for a more compact wall space.
Bronze Family Tree Picture Frame (6 photos)
This compact, stylish, and ornamental design fits easily on a coffee or end table or even a fireplace mantel. The tree comes with six little frames (order an extra set of 4 here). Again, think of this as a great way to show off pictures of your children or grandchildren, or use it to display treasured images of ancestors.
Crafting a Meaningful Home:27 DIY Projects to Tell Stories, Hold Memories and Celebrate Family Heritage
by Meg Mateo Ilasco.
If you like to make your own heritage displays, this book is for you. It’s packed with inspired ideas and detailed instructions on how to make things like decoupaged plates, a memory wall, and silhouettes on canvas. The projects shown are all really adaptable to fit your supplies and style. Meg thinks “out-of-the-box” about ways to preserve and display your memories–way beyond the traditional framed pictures, which are great but may not express the creative side of some of us!
DNA Ethnicity Charts from Family ChartMasters. These custom DNA ethnicity charts, based on your DNA test results, are gorgeous 21st-century conversation-starters to display in your home. Loved ones who may never glance at your painstakingly-researched family tree chart may make a beeline for these world maps and start asking questions!
You can choose from three different design options. The Basic theme is clean and fresh, and complements most decorating styles. The Antique theme’s sepia-tone finish brings together the styling of antique maps with your high-tech DNA profile. The Modern theme is graphic and bold, with neutral tones well-suited to contemporary décor. Which design would look best in your home–and on which wall?
See more heritage home decor ideas on my Pinterest boards. If you love heritage home decor, you should especially check out How to Display Your Family Tree and A Vintage Look at Home.
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