As a history major, I love the idea of using local history for writing inspiration. Many people have used world events and famous people as writing inspiration. But if you dig into the local history of where you live, you might find the spark to tell a unique story.
If you are interested in historical fiction set in America, researching local history at a library where your historical fiction is set will produce resources you can’t find anywhere else.
As a test, I visited a local history room of library near where I live. I’d still be there, trawling through the trove information like each piece was a jewel from a treasure, but I had a blog to type up. Here are some of the resources I discovered.
- City directories — From 2000 back to 1859
- Yearbooks of the local college — Going back to 1909. The college library is another place to check for local history
- Genealogical indexes — These covered two counties
- Books of the census — Covering one county, these went back to 1835. I also found it a great source for unusual names, such as Justice T. Calhoun, Zelotes Jones, and Ev Narden.
- Histories of local churches
- Book published in 1891 — Portraits and biographies of “prominent persons” from the county up to that time.
- Spooky tales of a neighboring county
- Index to Common Please Court — These were arranged both by plaintiff and defendent
- State phone books on microfiche
- Fiction and nonfiction by local authors
- Family histories
- Card catalog with obituaries — How many of you know what a card catalog is? It’s the paper way libraries indexed their collection. This one had cards arranged alphabetically by the last name of a deceased person, often with a newspaper obituary cut out and taped to the card.
The library had another room, locked, run by the county genealogical society, with hours listed when volunteers are available to help researchers.
Researching local history may also take you to old newspapers. The library I visited in Parsons, West Virginia, had the local newspaper on microfilm. While scrolling through an edition from the late 1940’s, I discovered why the bridge I drove across was a memorial bridge. It was dedicated to a sheriff who was murdered on duty. Now there’s the start to a story.
The microfilm was difficult to use and make copies of, so I asked the librarian if any of these newspapers were online. She said they weren’t. My only option was visiting the library.
How can you use local history for writing inspiration?