Alex Haley, Scottish Roots, and Genealogy as Story

Alex Haley, author of Roots, is Scottish! So am I, and maybe we’re related. Maybe it’s no surprise I’m embarking on a writing career—perhaps we share the same Scottish writing genes, somewhere a few generations back.


Of course, I’m not serious about Alex Haley and I being related. I have no clue if we are, and it would be an amazing coincidence. But I am deeply into genealogy, and I am currently immersed in my Scottish history. I’m quickly becoming an expert in Scottish history. I find my family history fascinating, and can lose myself in the research for hours. Ask my husband—he has spent many a Saturday watching me cruise the Internet on the genealogy websites. I also ask him to order strange books from the inter-library loan system. “Honey, this book was printed in 1713, I wonder if they can find it for me?” He is quick to tell the librarians that these are for his wife.


What I love about genealogy is the people. I’m not satisfied with the bare facts of their existence. I like to explore where they lived, and the era they lived in. I love seeing family traits that pop up from generation to generation. My cousins are carpenters, and my brother also is good with his hands. My great-grandfather was a carpenter and shipwright. My aunt is musically talented, as are many of my paternal relatives. My great-grandmother was a musician and composer. My mother is very good with languages, and one of her ancestors back in 1500 is known to have spoken eight languages. I’m a writer, and my great-grandmother also was a writer—which I did not know until long after she was gone.


The other great thing about genealogy, from a writer’s point of view, is the stories that come out of these people’s lives. My great-grandmother was 97 when she died. She had been born in 1899. Think of all she lived through! The harrowing tales of early immigrants make for great drama. The noble lineages provide political intrigue and wars. The Celtic clans bring their share of blood feuds and revenge. There is great fodder for books.


In fact, I have already outlined a book based on what I have learned from some of my research – The Cypher King.


Genealogy rocks!


  1. haha! Who am I? A sum total of my ancestors?
    Hi Kerry, I love your blog, and fascinated by your fascination with your past. It’s a lot easier to be fascinated when you’ve got anglo ancestors with memories and you actually have records. Try being fascinated by Jewish ancestors. Let me count the ways. Fled pogroms (state sanctioned mob persecution), refused to EVER talk about the old country, towns probably no longer even exist after a century of Stalin and Hitler, and here’s the bonus. On the way into the country, the Ellis Island clerks simply made up an Americanized name!!! (I could have been Wexler, Wachsler, etc) So I’ve had to be mainly content trying to understand myself by looking within what i can see. Once you tune in, it’s quite interesting. By the way, a fabulous memoir about this issue of finding yourself through your genes is A.M. Homes, Mistress’s Daughter. I highly recommend it. It has a fair amount of commentary about genealogy and lots of fascinating implications.
    Memory Writers Network

  2. Your right, genealogy does rock.
    I have a picture in my head. It’s of a man’s hands, so callused that he can touch freezing metal and not feel it. I remember exactly where I was standing when my grandfather, born in 1899, showed me the barn door that he watched his grandfather grab and drag open with bare hands, even on the coldest days. Those hands were dust over half a century ago but still I see the picture in my head.
    Your right, genealogy does rock.

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