Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Where Do Ideas Come From?

Writers are often asked the question: “Where do you get your ideas?”  My answer is -- everywhere!

I just attended a yearly genealogical conference in my area and again found not just genealogical help, but inspiration for my writing. Genealogy is, after all, made up of the stories of past families, and families’ lives are made up of many stories.

I always find the workshops of ‘Photo Detective’ Maureen Taylor compelling. She is an expert on the ‘intersection of history, genealogy and photography’, specializing in preserving, dating and identifying photographs and the subjects in them. The Smithsonian asked her to choose a photograph from their vast collection to analyze and write about. Her choice was a copy of a daguerreotype taken in 1839 or ’40 (the original had been damaged during an attempt at restoration). It shows a well dressed lovely young woman in a flower trimmed bonnet. The young woman was Dorothy Catherine Draper, who was photographed by her brother John W. Draper on the rooftop of New York University. He made the camera himself out of a cigar box within months of Louis Jacques Daguerre’s invention of that process of photography. Her face was powdered with flour in order to accentuate contrasts in the photograph. The likeness of Dorothy Catherine is now considered to be possibly the first family photo.

I found the story of the young woman in the picture to be intriguing. I had found nothing about her when I was researching my book about a female painter in the 1830s but apparently Dorothy Catherine Draper was well known in the 19th century. She was an independent and industrious woman who, in England and America, supported her mother, sisters, brother and his family by teaching art. She put her brother through medical school at a time when it was difficult for women to have careers, and she appears to have been quite successful in that career. Her brother went on to be an eminent scientist, educator and writer.

There are many such stories to be unearthed in the genealogical records of families—a treasure trove of ideas for writers.

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful photo. I love her style.

    I agree, ideas come from everywhere -- they're all around us. We just have to tune in.