The Wednesday Writing Spot – Write about your ancestors – Emmeline Pankhurst and I…

Genealogy is a fascinating subject and I know more than one writer who has both researched their family tree and then used their ancestors as characters in either a short story or a novel.  I love this idea. I believe that writing with emotion is the way to sell your work – and what better way to do it!

We are linked to our ancestors, we are bound to have some emotional involvement with them – especially when we start researching their lives.  Hence we are halfway there if we create characters who are based on people in our past. We may not know much about them, but we will know something, and it’s amazingly inspiring and satisfying to recreate their lives in fiction.

I have a very complicated and (at least to me) interesting family history. My father was one of six. He also had six children. (there are four different mothers). I wasn’t brought up with any of my paternal brothers and sisters, but in the last fifteen years I have met two of my brothers.

Last week I met one of my cousins for the first time, and two nephews, and a couple of uncles and aunts. Fabulous stuff.  Now, on to something quite interesting that arose when we were chatting about our family history.  I was born Della Parkhurst.  My father was Peter Parkhurst, his father was Patrick Frank Parkhurst, his father was Frank William Parkhurst.

So what does all this have to do with Emmeline Pankhurst? Well… according to one of my aunts, who’s the custodian of our family history, Frank William Parkhurst was actually a Pankhurst, but he and his wife, Florence, were so horrified by another member of their family, Emmeline Pankhurst doing such embarrassing things such as chaining herself to the railings that they decided to disassociate themselves from her and changed their name by sleight of pen from Pankhurst to Parkhurst.

I was blown away when I learned of this fact. So if this is true – and apparently it’s been passed down my family over the years, and everyone thinks it’s true, then I’m related to Emmeline Pankhurst. How amazing is that. (It also explains a lot about my character, tee hee!).

I haven’t actually chained myself to any railings, but I have been passionate about one or two causes and have even been an activist in the past (long story). However, I would definitely have been up for some railing chaining in Emmeline’s time. My next step is to dig around a little and see if I can verify this, one way or the other. I’m sure one of you genealogy experts can tell me how to do it too.

Now, lets get back to writing, and also on to the most bizarre bit of this story. I sold a story a couple of years ago which was called Fifteen Minutes of Fame – it was published by The Weekly News, and it was about a girl who chains herself to the railings to save her grandfather’s allotments. Someone then lies to the newspapers that she is the great great great granddaughter of Emmeline Pankhurst.

How spooky is that 🙂

If you’d like any more advice on writing short stories, please check out my writing guides. How to Write and Sell Short Stories  and Moving On, Short Story to Novel, published by Accent Press and The Short Story Writers’ Toolshed published by

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12 Responses to The Wednesday Writing Spot – Write about your ancestors – Emmeline Pankhurst and I…

  1. kath says:

    Oh that’s amazing! If you are related to Emmeline Pankhurst then I am even more proud to know you!

    Am happy to help get you started on the research but beware, it is fascinating and addictive and leaves little room for writing.

  2. Wendy Clarke says:

    There is an interesting family history regarding my grandfather and his brother who everyone thought was dead. The story is long and involved and I keep meaning to talk to my mum about the details as I keep forgetting them (hopeless memory, me!) It would make a great story.

  3. Della Galton says:

    Oh Wendy, you must must do it – a novel ???

  4. Julie Swan says:

    Very spooky indeed.
    Did you see Una Stubbs on Who do you think you are? last night? repeated tonight. Similar coincidences.
    You must write something around this.

  5. David Hough says:

    All power to your writing elbow, Della. Go for it. It could be your next big novel. But a word of warning. The bad bits – and there are always bad bits – can upset people if you don’t hide them with care. Been there, done that. Wish you every success. You deserve it.

  6. Funny how the spelling of names gets changed over the years. The earliest recorded spelling of McPherson is Makfersan in 1447 (nobody could spell in those days). There have also been Makfassane and Makphersone. But my favourite McPherson has to be the founder of the town of McPherson in Kansas: General James Birdseye McPherson. If only I’d been been given his middle name!
    My lot, however, have always claimed descent from the 17th century fiddle player and outlaw Jamie MacPherson (spelt McPherson in the record of his trial, strangely enough) who composed the song MacPherson’s Lament and played it on the gallows before they hung him. He was playing for time, apparently, because a reprieve was on the way. But, knowing that, the magistrates set the town hall clock forward by 15 minutes and hanged him before the reprieve arrived.
    That’s the legend, anyway. But it’s certainly true he was arrested in my dad’s home town of Keith, and did most of his freebooting around Elgin and Banff, where I have a lot of relatives. The family motto, ‘Touch not the cat but (meaning without) a glove,’ goes back a lot further and is shared by other families of the Clan Chattan – ‘Tribe of the cats’ – who were known for their sharp claws…

  7. Della Galton says:

    What a brilliant legend. And wow fancy knowing about so far back – i could definitely get addicted to this family and name research. I love Birdseye, couldn’t you just adopt the name, tee hee, or use it for a character 🙂 Thanks for posting such an interesting reply. xx

  8. How fascinating Della I adore this woman for what she did for us women thank you for sharing this interesting story

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