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Donna Fletcher Crow, Novelist of British History, has written more than 50 books specializing in British Christianity. These books include: The Monastery Murders, clerical mysteries; Lord Danvers Investigates, Victorian true-crime; The Elizabeth and Richard series, literary suspense; and Glastonbury, The Novel of Christian England. She loves research and sharing you-are-there experiences with her readers.

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Donna Fletcher Crow, Novelist of British History


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Donna Fletcher Crow, Novelist of British History

A traveling researcher engages people and places from Britain's past and present, drawing comparisons and contrasts between past and present for today's reader.

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Fay Sampson Mines Riches from Family Research

By Fay Sampson ~ May 16, 2016

 It began when my young grandson came home from school saying that his homework was to find out what he could about his family roots. Our son rang us to see if we could help. From then on, both he and I were smitten with the family history bug. It appeals to me for all sorts of reasons. 

Before I became a writer I was a mathematics teacher. It’s all about solving problems. Sometimes the progression back from children to parents is straightforward. At other times you run into a blank wall. I love the challenge of seeing what other stratagems I can employ, what different source material might help, and the satisfaction when I finally crack it. 

Then there is the access to those evocative original documents. Nowadays that is likely to be through microfiche, digitised photos or transcriptions. But not always. I remember the horror I felt when reading the churchwarden’s accounts my ancestor had written in 1730. I saw a fine powder was gathering on the desk. Was the document crumbling in my hands? Then I realised it was the sand with which he had blotted his ink. 

And, of course, I’m a writer of fiction. I had intended family history to be a hobby that would provide a relaxation from this. I should have known better. With generation after generation I was uncovering personal stories. I thought that where they were illiterate farm labourers there would be nothing about them but their baptisms, marriages and burials in the church registers. But the accounts of the Overseers of the Poor or the churchwardens often shed more light on their lives. I found myself with a multitude of real-life stories to tell. 

And then there is the social and historical background. What was going on at the time when they lived? What changes would influence their lives? Which side were they on in the Civil War of the 1600s? I was delighted when one of my husband’s ancestors, a handloom weaver at the start of the Industrial Revolution, bucked the trend by refusing to work in the cotton mill which was  taking his work away, but reinvented himself as a medical herbalist.  {Pictured: weaving shed, descendent of herbalist ancestor--perhaps his herbs grew hair?)







                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Inevitably, this spilled over into my fiction. In the Blood started out as novel about Suzie Fewings researching her ancestors, in much the same way as I did. Only there has always been a rather bloodthirsty element in my books. Without my planning it, dark deeds in Suzie’s family past became intertwined with dark deeds involving her teenage son. I found I had not just a  family history story but a crime novel on my hands. There have been ten more since.


Now I have started the enormous task of putting all this family history on my website,, so that researchers worldwide can access it, not just a handful of family members. There is wonderful stuff there. I had no idea when I started that many of my ancestors were boatmen in the Kentish port of Deal, and almost certainly smugglers.  



Nor that I was descended from centuries of lords of the manor going back to Norman times, while other ancestors died in the workhouse. One of my forebears was the knight who captured King Stephen at the Battle of Lincoln in 1141. But I have many more colourful stories relating to the research process itself. There is still a vast amount of stuff out there waiting to be discovered. The site is being added to all the time.


Fay Sampson (UK) is a writer of adult and children's fiction and non-fiction, including A MALIGNANT HOUSE, #2 in the Susie Fewings series, a British Crime Club Pick.

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Reader Comments:

What absolute riches for your family and your readers, Fay--and now available to all researchers. Congratulations on undertaking such a valuable project.
-Donna, May 16, 2016

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