Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Turning History Research into a Story

When Kate was researching her book "Ruth by Lake and Prairie" she tried to piece together Ruth's life story to make the book about the founding of Naperville come alive.

The title character, Ruth Eliza Murray was born in Ashtabula, Ohio and immigrated to Illinois with her family in 1831 as part of a group of settlers organized by her uncle Joseph Naper after whom the town was named. A few years later another family from Ohio arrived: Alfred Shattuck, his wife and his sons. While they rented a farm in Naper's Settlement, they wanted to buy their own land and scouted property further west, finally purchasing in Spring Township, Boone County.

While they were preparing the land and building a cabin, the Shattucks remained in Naper's Settlement and Alfred's twenty-year old son, Harlyn, must have socialized with Ruth, then 16. Whether there were any sparks between them at the time is unknown and the Shattucks moved out to their Boone County farm.

Years passed. Ruth remained at Naper's Settlement on her family's farm, Harlyn remained in Spring Township on his. Perhaps there were dances, weddings or other get-togethers. Northern Illinois was still thinly settled at the time and people did travel to Chicago or up from Will County to socialize with one another. We don't know how it happened, but Harlyn and Ruth were married on the last day of March in 1842.

Harlyn was twenty-eight and Ruth was twenty-four so they certainly weren't a couple of kids rushing into a romance. Ruth's own sisters married at younger ages than that. Kate speculates that Ruth may have been less attractive than her sisters or more useful to the household, two traits that might explain a late marriage and which Kate used to develop Ruth's character in the book.

The newly weds lived at first in a rented house in Naper's Settlement while Harlyn hired himself out as a laborer. Looking at the census records, the young Shattucks apparently took in a boarder as well. He was also a laborer and was perhaps a widower since two small children are listed in the records but no wife. From the beginning of their marriage Ruth proved her capabilities by managing a household with three adults and two children.

With no photographs, no diaries, no letters we can only speculate on Ruth's real personality using the tiny clues that research offers.

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