Writer uses family stories as basis for fiction

Published 10:54 am Wednesday, October 10, 2018

By JOYANNA LOVE/ Senior Staff Writer

As Chilton County celebrates the 150th anniversary of the formation of the county, many are learning more about the history of the area.

October is also National Family History Month.

The two occasions collided for Colyn Moatts with the release of his book “Between Chestnut and Yellow Leaf.”

The book is named after the creeks that form geographical boundaries for the area that is now Chilton County, where the book is set.

The book is inspired by, and loosely based on, Moatts’ genealogical research of his family.

Moatts has searched through documentation at state and national archives to trace his lineage.

A thick binder now holds his family tree, which includes the man responsible for spearheading the formation of the county — Alfred Baker Sr.

This county was originally named after him and called Baker County.

Alfred Baker Sr. was Moatts’ great-great grandfather.

Moatts’ father’s maternal grandfather Alfred Baker Jr. was close to him

“When I was born, he would walk over just to visit me and my dad,” Moatts said. “… He told my dad, ‘I won’t be around when your boy grows up, but tell him about me and the family.’ My dad told me all these stories of his grandfather who had passed on.”

When Moatts had sons of his own, the stories of the Bakers and the family history came back to him.

These stories inspired Moatts to research the family history further. While working in Montgomery, he would often spend his lunch break at the State Archives building.

“Back in the day, you could get three questions answered for $15, and they would do that research,” Moatts said. “That was neat. Even if the answer was they couldn’t find anything, you still had to pay them the $15. But, they gave me a lot (of information).”

During this research, Moatts found minutes of the legislative session where Alfred Baker Sr. was pushing for the formation of a new county.

Moatts said once the county was established, Baker Sr. “disappeared from the minutes.”

He had been a representative of Autauga County. Moatts said other than getting Baker County established, Baker Sr. helped secure “tax-free liquor licenses for some of his buddies that lived up here” and that was about it.

“Nobody is perfect. Your relatives are just people. Your ancestors are just people,” Moatts said. “They have some good points, they have some bad points … It’s not real history if you sugarcoat everything.”

Writing “Between Chestnut and Yellow Leaf” was a way for him to “see the story from beginning to end.”

“Doing the genealogy — you get a piece here and a piece there,” Moatts said. “This is something I can give to my sons and they can get a sense for how life was and perhaps pass it on to their kids, and they won’t have to sugarcoat it and say Grandpa Baker was a saint. He wasn’t, but he did some good things.”

The book begins with the Civil War battle near Ebenezer Church in 1865 but also includes character flashbacks to earlier years.

While the book is fiction, real key events and some real historical figures are referenced.

Moatts wrote the book under the name Colin McCaslin to connect himself to the main fictional character, Duncan McCaslin.

Moatts described the book as “a folksy style.”

Since Alfred Baker Sr.’s will and documents had been burned after his death by his family, the book needed to be fiction, Moatts said.

“It had to be fiction, because there was nothing to footnote,” Moatts said.

He said he hopes the book will help people care about history for what really happened, not to change history.

“I just hope people enjoy it and appreciate it for what it is intended to be,” Moatts said.

“Between Chestnut and Yellow Leaf” is a self-published book, printed by Crest Publishers.

“Between Chestnut and Yellow Leaf” is set to be available to the public at crestpublishers.com and on Amazon.com by mid-October.