June 5, 2020

The Story Behind the Story: A Cord of Three Strands

Christy Distler                     @ChristyDistler
Faith & Grace Fiction

There’s a story behind every story, and the story behind my debut historical novel, A Cord of Three Strands, is extra special to me. Why? Because some of the characters are my ancestors.

When I was growing up, my mom got into genealogy. She visited libraries, historical societies, cemeteries, and vital records offices, collecting all the information she found into handwritten books. And because some lines of my maternal grandmother’s family have been in this country for almost four centuries, she was able to trace our family tree back pretty far. It also helped that one line had a fairly well-known and respected progenitor, which meant more than the usual amount of information was readily available. (It also works this way when you have a fairly well-known and notorious progenitor, which we also found out, but that’s a story for a different book—well, if I can somehow weave a seventeenth-century female tavernkeeper who got banished from Manhattan Island into Christian Fiction. Yeah. We’ll have to see about that.)

Anyway, I apparently inherited my mom’s love for genealogy. I pored over her research, even as a child. (Odd, yes, but that was nothing new. As a high-schooler, I got in trouble during history class for working on a novel instead of studying for a test—which the teacher forgave when he found out it was a historical novel.) When we finally got internet service, I started doing the research. Now I was really hooked. One line—the Lukens family, who were Friends (Quakers)—particularly interested me, mainly because they were among the first residents of Horsham Township, Pennsylvania, where my mom had grown up and I’d lived for the first five years of my life. I concentrated on that one.

One evening, I came across an interesting name: Seneca Lukens. Seneca—as in the Indian tribe? I wondered. I couldn’t think of any other connection to such a name, so I started digging deeper online. That’s when I came upon a group called the Friendly Association for Regaining and Preserving Peace with the Indians by Pacific Measures. During the French and Indian War, Philadelphia Friends formed this association in an attempt to forge peace with the Lenape (and Pennsylvania’s other tribes) through treating them with respect and love, working to compensate them for their losses, and acting as a liaison between them and the government. So maybe that’s the connection, I thought. The Seneca tribe did live in northern Pennsylvania and southern New York during this time period.

That night, a young man showed up in the dream I had: Isaac Lukens—the son of a French trapper and a Lenape woman, who was adopted by Horsham Quakers after his parents’ death. I usually don’t remember a lot about my dreams, but he stayed with me. So I did what any novelist would do: gave him a leading role in a story that weaves fact and fiction into a tapestry that brings to life Friends’ roles in relations with the Lenape, and in refuting slavery, during the French and Indian War. While Isaac and his co-MC in A Cord of Three Strands, Elisabeth Alden, are fictitious, several of the other characters (most of whom are also my ancestors) are not. It’s been a long, intense, research-heavy endeavor, and I’ve loved every minute of it.

Which brings me to the biggest irony of all: Seneca Lukens—well, he apparently wasn’t named after the Indian tribe. As I was finishing this story’s writing, I happen to meet a local historian who knew a fair amount about the Lukens family. I asked him about the name, and he pointed out the Lukenses’ extraordinary (at least for the eighteenth century) thirst for knowledge and suggested that he was most likely named for a Roman philosopher named Lucius Annaeus Seneca.

Was I disappointed? Yeah. A lot. Until I realized what this one question in my mind had led to. Truly, the imagination, whether piqued by truth or speculation, is a wonderful thing. 

Now, I’d love to hear your story. If you could write a story about one of your ancestors, whom would it be and why?
and why? 

For as long as she can remember, Christy Distler has dreamed her most vivid dreams with her eyes wide open. Names became people—people who didn’t exist in this time and place but couldn’t have been more real in her heart and mind. So, she did the only rational thing: gave them a voice by writing fiction.
Christy’s novels, whether historical or contemporary, delve into betrayal and reconciliation, faith, and grace, and always involve the intertwining of cultures. When not writing, she works as an editor for publishing houses and independent authors.
Obsession with words (and history) aside, she lives with her husband, children, and dogs in Pennsylvania, less than two miles from where her Lukens ancestors settled more than three hundred years ago.


  1. Christy,

    Thanks for the fascinting story. I have only written a few short stories--not full length fiction. My books are all nonfiction--but you posed an interesting question. If I was going to write about one of my relatives, it would probably be my five great grandfather who was an explorer in the early days of the formation of the state of Kentucky, Captain James Estill. They named Estill County after him. Maybe someone else has already done it.

    author of 10 Publishing Myths, Insights Every Author Needs to Succeed

    1. Thanks, Terry! I think you should do it. :) Looks like Captain James pioneered west with Daniel Boone. What a story that would be!

  2. I really enjoyed reading about your ancestors. Goodness, the research you had to do was intense, but the results are, I know, satisfying. And you'll do it again and again, I'm sure. Praying God's favor on the book. It's one to go on my TBR pile.

  3. Thank you, Ane! Researching is so much fun. Never know what you might learn.:)

  4. Very interesting, Christy! I love researching family trees...even to the point of sitting for hours in a tiny room in upstairs in your library looking at microfilm.