Drawing Tea and Research Plans II

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 South Stilly at Jordanme 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.

For how to read a secondary source read this article. For bibliograhies, try Librarything. You can apparently store your books there.

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.


3 thoughts on “Drawing Tea and Research Plans II

  1. Janet, now I know what a “hob” is — I come across this word every so often in research, and I can’t believe I’ve never stopped to look it up.

    I’m doing a piece on the Puritan poet Anne Bradstreet and wondered if you might know what 17th century laundry days were like in America. ??? Bethany

    • Hi Beth, I commented on your blog about Emily.

      As for Anne (Love to see her writing) and her laundry days, I’d contact the Pilgrim Plantation in Plymouth, MA at http://www.plimoth.org/. Strawberry Banke is also an excited interpretive museum. http://www.strawberybanke.org/
      Washing was pretty primitive by our standards. Probably wooden tubs and boiling water if not a rock by a stream. Most of the clothing was linen or wool. They didn’t wash often. Maybe not for weeks.

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