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Monday, June 5, 2023


Centuries Old Home of Orr Family in Ireland
Elaine L. Orr began exploring her family’s history in the mid-1990s, when she tried to prove a long-held family belief that Daniel Boone was a direct ancestor. Oops. Not so, and siblings and cousins were not happy with her. But the hobby that grew from that mistake has brought joy, new friends, and – finally – fiction. The Family History Mystery series, set in the Mountains of Western Maryland Learn more about Elaine and her books at her website and blog 

Following Clues to Family History

One of the jokes shared among family historians is that some of us know our dead ancestors better than living relatives. I’ve spent time sorting through Civil War records in the National Archives, ship rosters, and barely decipherable census records.


My Orr family also has an active reunion group that annually celebrates the arrival of the family in Missouri in 1837. As historian, I’ve explored traditions with dozens of relatives, many of whom shared stories through the decades. Irish traditions – Protestant and Catholic – are in my bones.


As I searched for a fresh mystery series, I realized I’d never set a novel in my native Maryland or woven my favorite hobby into my writing. The Family History Mystery Series quickly took shape. I stayed away from my stomping grounds near Washington, DC and opted for the beauty of the Appalachian Mountains. 


It can be a challenge to link mysteries from the past with modern crimes. Then the Pandemic prevented me from visiting the towns and libraries that had been part of planning for the series. Fortunately, I could buy history books and people, were happy to talk on the phone. My imagination wasn’t thwarted by the isolation. In fact, had it not been for the Pandemic, there might only be two books now instead of four. 


My thirty-something antagonist is Digger, whose nickname came from helping her great uncle keep up family cemetery plots. The first book entailed solving his murder, and I came to a sinking feeling as the end approached. I didn’t want to let go of Uncle Benjamin. His dry humor and extensive familiarity with the region would be buried with him.


Thus, a surprise ending to Least Trodden Ground. Just after the last shovel of dirt covered his grave in the family plot, Uncle Benjamin’s ghost popped up on the kitchen table. Only Digger can see and talk to him, which creates awkwardness and fun plots. He has knowledge of the town and a dry humor that has led him to be a fan favorite.


Without him, Digger would spend more time looking through dusty plat maps or listening to lectures at the historical society. Uncle Benjamin’s renditions are more to the point and certainly more appealing to readers.


I didn’t expect to learn as much about Maryland’s Civil War History, including the Underground Railroad, or feel so at home on Meadow Mountain, home of the fictional Maple Grove. 


As I prepare for a weeklong visit to Garrett County, Maryland and talks at local libraries, I look forward to blending more Maryland history with future mysteries. I’ll return to the Midwest with enough ideas to write for years.


Least Trodden Ground

A Family History Mystery, Book 1


Digger Browning looked forward to spending time with Uncle Benjamin after damaged pipes put her kitchen ceiling on the floor. She didn't expect to find his body at his Western Maryland home, the Ancestral Sanctuary. Who would kill the parsimonious octogenarian? Sure, some people were mad about him pushing the historical society to find a new abode, but they got over it, right? And then she finds out he had a new 'foxy lady,' and she's not his usual type. Antsy before the funeral, Digger delves into family history, but makes an unexpected find. Between trying to figure out who keeps breaking into the Ancestral Sanctuary, avoiding an ex-boyfriend, putting up with cranky relatives, figuring out who busted her pipes, and losing her job, it's a rough week. If she doesn't watch out, Digger could end up next to Uncle Benjamin in the family plot. Spooky times in the Western Maryland mountains.


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