What’s in Mrs. Hale’s Receipts for the Million 1857?
2076. Do not pensioners, and aged cottagers, generally prefer the black earthen teapot to the bright metal one? 2077. Yes, because they set it on the hob to “draw;” in which , the little black teapot will make the best tea.
You learn new things every day. The top surface of a cook stove is call the hob. Didn’t know that, but a little research uncovered its meaning.
Well, I’ve been distracted again, in part due to a writing assignment that sent me down twice along the South branch of the Stillaquamish River in Snohomish County, WA looking for clues about a long lost rural place named Jordan. It’s hard when the place is just a spot on a road I never heard of, but well known to locals. Trying to figure out the history of a place, let alone find it is just one of the challenges of writing both fiction and non-fiction. Just try it with 1910 map in your lap.
Gathering Sources For Writing A Historical Novel
Historians work all the time with various forms of information when they research a period. This falls into two types: primary and secondary.
According to a local archivist, primary sources are “information generated during an event.” Letters, journals, memos, manuscripts, photographs, newspapers and periodicals. Secondary sources are “information created after an event to explain it to someone else.”
Therefore, a letter from Surgeon WF in 1863 sent to his friend at home is a primary resource. His article about his experiences at the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg is another. The Hospital on Seminary Ridge at the Battle Of Gettysburg is a secondary resource. So are the excellent pamphlets the national park at the battlefield produces.
Start with secondary sources first. They are important because they identify context. The event or period that you are writing about is more than a local affair. It is connected to the outside world. Secondary sources can also be browsed. That is, you can work through a shelf in a library because they are classified.
When I started on my first novel about Norway in WW II, I hit the university library in the European section and an even tighter category, Scandanavia. I found a wonderful title Blood on the Midnight Sun which gave me valuable information about the country during those times and a great bibliography that lead me to important sources. I also read wartime copies of Time Magazine and National Geographic.
Primaries sources are letters, diaries, newspapers, ephemera (tickets, things created for an event and not expected to be saved). Clothing, buildings, tombstones are also primary sources. Washington State has the nation’s first digitalized archives. A repository of Primary Sources is at University of Idaho.
Happy hunting. Gotta go check my tea pot.