Today I am guest blogging on the America Christian Fiction Writers’ site. If you don’t know where Harran is or why it’s important to leave it, stop by and read my blog!
Not everything about history can be found online. 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, last summer 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.
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.
What kind of resources have you found helpful when doing research?
As a fan of mysteries, I had come across The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey on lists of the best mysteries ever written. When I finally settled down to read it, I found it to be one of the most engrossing stories I’ve ever had the pleasure to discover. It expertly combines two of my passions: history and mystery.
Written in England in the 1950’s, the novel features Inspector Alan Grant, laid up in the hospital with a broken leg and bored out of his mind. His actress girlfriend knows his fascination with faces and brings him copies of photos and portraits to study. When he find the portrait of Richard III, he can’t reconcile the face with the man’s reputation as the murderer of his tween age nephews. The girlfriend contacts Brent Carradine, young man doing historical research, and he and Grant begin to believe that the story handed down for 500 years about Richard III being a merrily murdering monster is false.
Although the characters and setting are fictitious, the mystery is not. Edward V and his younger brother Richard did disappear sometime after June 1483. Their uncle Richard, who became king when the boys were declared illegitimate, is the most likely culprit. But Henry Tudor, who killed Richard III in battle and took the throne, also had a motive.
Even more involving than this mystery is the one of how people interpret history. In the novel, Grant and Carradine stick to contemporary sources and must examine the motives of the authors. Was he a sympathizer of the York family, the branch of the royal house Richard III belonged to? Or did the author favor the Lancaster side, of which Henry Tudor was a member?
The two characters also discuss how people lie about events to further their own agenda. I found all this analysis of history so inspiring that I want to use the novel in my own murder mystery. My main character use the techniques of research outlined in the book to investigate a 70-year-old mystery in his rural West Virginia county.
If you want to learn more about Richard III and his nephews, click here for the Wikipedia article. Many books have been written about the mystery, and it’s difficult to find ones that are biased. As I stated in one of my earliest blog posts, the authors tend to be either ardent Richard III supporters or detractors. Very much like the people who wrote about Richard in 1483.
What other novels have you read that blend unsolved real-life mysteries with fiction?
I posted a version of this poem last May but I didn’t have the meter right. So I worked with it and now every line is the correct rhythm.
If you are a student or a teacher or somehow connected to schools, let me know if this poem rings true for you.