A Good Resource for Washington State History

Historylink logo

I write both fiction and non-fiction. Three of my novels take place in the Pacific Northwest in three different time periods: mid-19th century, 1906 and 1935. Each story has its own culture, technology, politics and media. My characters deal with the time they live in.

One novel, Mist-shi-mus, deals with the issue of smallpox in 1860. There are a number of fine written resources on this deadly disease and its devastating effects on communities during the 19th century. Many are available in public libraries or through inter-library programs.

For quick reference on anything about the history of Washington State, however, you can’t beat HistoryLink, the “on-line encyclopedia of Washington.” The first of its kind in the country, this resource is written by historians from around the state and is free. It currently posts 5188 “time essays” and thumbnails. Each piece is carefully researched with its sources cited at the bottom of the page. The organization takes great pride in stating exactly where what archive box that letter came from or who said what.

For an excellent essay on small pox go to http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&file_id=5100

I write for HistoryLink and have enjoyed the search for interesting stories from many different communities in Western Washington. Some of my favorites are:

1) US Lumber vs the Snohomish County Commissioners (some clever folks wanted Darrington to be wet when the state was going dry) http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&file_id=8660

2) Shingle bolt cutters suing a local lumber mill over back wages. http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&file_id=8471

Both came from court cases buried at the NW Regional State Archives.

I also enjoy writing about the CCC. Check out this essay about Camp Skagit. http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&file_id=5657

HistoryLink can be reached at http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm .

Getting Started– All Over Again

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It’s been quite a while since my last post, but I have been learning the frameworks of a blog while I balance work at a museum and conduct research in my off hours on a 19th century bark. For a writer and for the subject of all things historical such a blog needs to focus on writing, research, recent discoveries in different disciplines that compliment history, author interviews and thoughts on both fiction and non-fiction. I love to read and write both. For the purpose of this blog, it’s important to look at both and understand the genres.

For example, what is historical fiction?  That’s a good question.

According to the Historical Novel Society, a novel “must have been written at least fifty years after the events described, or have been written by someone who was not alive at the time of those events (who therefore approaches them only by research)” in order to be considered historical fiction. Sharpe’s Rifles is historical fiction, Cold Mountain, Prince of Foxes (an old favorite), Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Ice Reich, Atonement, The Wet Nurse’s Tale. All historical fiction. Then there is historical mystery, historical thrillers, and historical fantasies. All of them required some homework to create a believable world.

Non-fiction book on the history, on the other hand, is much more exacting. I was trained as an historian and did my undergraduate work at Kalamazoo College in Michigan. One of the requirements for my degree was to write a thesis. I had earlier been an intern for the Anthropology Department at the Smithsonian, flipping carefully through early 19th century American magazines on the lookout for graphics of Native Americans. Later, I wrote a thesis on the Comanche Indians as prisoners of war. I read saddle reports on microfilm, old magazines and letters which hadn’t seen light in over a century. When I wrote the piece, I could comment on the weather and quote what someone had recalled about the event, all backed by further research from different points of view and materials.

The Rule of Three

I was always trained that in writing the history about some event or person, I would need a minimum of three resources to support whatever I was writing about. For example, I am currently researching a 19th century bark. For years, historians reported that the bark was in a certain place at a certain time. I thought it was too early. It’s taken more than half a year, but I found the owner and a newspaper article about where the bark was located. So far, I have a pretty idea that the information about said bark was wrong. All I need now is some ad, some shipping intelligence report or a customs citation to firmly state my case. Then I can say with certainty what the new finding is. All this from 1850 materials.

Historical non-fiction has to be as true as one can discover. David McCullough is a good example of someone who knows the type of research that is required. It can take years, but with a good nose for records finding and a way with the pen (and computer) and prose, you can have a wonderful, informative read such as John Adams. http://www.neh.gov/whoweare/mccullough/biography.html

Kla-how-yah!

I come from a family of pack rats. History stirs on the shelves in teapots and in boxes full of letters and journals as long ago as 1830. The family story goes back to 1638. But it’s been the stories of my Nana, her mother known as Bongie and my 93-year-old mother that nourished me. There are strong women in my family. Ansenith Parker, Quaker missionary to the Shawnee and Kaw. Martha (Bongie) March, teacher of ex-slaves and Kiowa children and president of the Idaho Womans’ Relief Corps. Mysterious Judith March who was fined for wearing a lace cap above her station in the 1600s. Writing about them has helped me examine my own life and upbringing.

And then there is my great-grandfather, Dr. William F. Osborn, Civil War surgeon from Fairchance, Pennsylvania. I was seven years old when my mother put his journal from Gettysburg in my hands. That began my life-long love of history of many times and places, especially World War II and the Pacific Northwest.

Here at Historyweaver’s, I hope to write about history, writing historical fiction, family story, and the writing craft of time and place.