Rebecca DeMarino's debut novel is out this month. Since it was inspired by the story of her ancestors, I asked her to tell us a little about her research and how we can make the most of ours. -- Sandy
Rebecca: My inspiration for A Place in His Heart began with a trip to Long Island in 1999, and I was fortunate to be able to go back many times while researching my novel.
The Horton Point Lighthouse was fascinating and contained a museum and many fun facts. But we were delighted to find the Southold Historical Society with much information about Barnabas, but very little about Mary Langton Horton, who married the widower with two sons and left home and family behind to follow her husband across the pond to the wilds of the New World.
I’ve been back to Horton’s Point many times. Each time I feel like I’m walking in Mary’s footsteps. The streets of Southold are still laid out much as they were in the seventeenth century. I’ve walked from Founder’s Landing on Peconic Bay, where the English Puritans arrived on their shallop, to Horton Point on the opposite side of the island, where Barnabas and Mary owned land. I’ve wandered through the cemetery, which was directly across from their home, said to be the first timber-framed house on eastern Long Island.
On my later trips to Southold I found the Southold Free Library, with their Whitaker Collection, to be so helpful in my research and a late afternoon trip to the Southold Indian Museum a particular treasure trove. The curator proved so very sweet. She stayed open late to let me peruse the shelves and take pictures for my research.
To feel the earth beneath my feet, and look at the same sunset over Long Island Sound that my ancestors saw so many years ago, to study the artifacts from centuries ago, and stand next to a house that was built in that time period that my ancestors lived, gives a breath to my story and brings it to life in a way that searching on the internet cannot.
What to do when you can’t travel? There are myriad research sites on the web, and books as well through Google Books and the inter-library exchange program. And my favorite at-home research tool, when I want to know what it felt like to walk in their shoes? Google Earth. If you haven’t used it, you must. I’ve traveled to England, but not to the little hamlet of Mowsley where Mary and Barnabas grew up and married. But I went there on Google Earth—and much like Southold, the layout of the town is the same as the 17th century. And to my delight, as I walked around a curve, I came face to face with the 13th century church that still exists. Renovated in the 1800’s, it still has a window dating to the 17th century and as well as some of the interior. What a find! It’s truly a place of my heart and one I hope to visit.