What Is So Historical About Research?

By Tammy Trail

When I began to write my first novel, I knew it would be a historical. I love history. I love the idea of our nation being shaped by hardworking men and women who sacrificed to live in an untamed country. I chose Frontier/American Revolution because that’s what I like to read.

I began of course with WHO, WHAT, WHERE, and WHEN. I was given advice from a writer friend to research everything for accuracy and keep notes on where I found that information. I may need it later to educate or confirm my research.

If you just google Historical Research, you will find a plethora of options. Historical research involves examining past events to draw conclusions about the future. That is one definition I found. Instead of drawing conclusions about the future, we who write historical fiction pour our definition of past events and how they might have affected our characters onto the page.

Some material that may help in your research are newspapers, diaries, letters, speeches, or interview a person with firsthand knowledge. Museums, historical societies, and old pictures are helpful too. I would really love to take a “research” trip one of these days. Williamsburg Virginia has been calling my name for years.

Other information you may need to research.

  • Food
  • Clothing
  • Trades
  • Politics
  • Travel
  • Weapons

In my American Revolutionary story, politics plays a huge role because it set the social and economic climate for that period. I read about some of the lesser known places and heroes that played a part in our winning independence from Great Britain.  I also asked myself what roles would a woman have played during the American Revolution? How does life go on when your men are away from home?

I have even read novels from other authors who write in my chosen time to get a feel for that era. I stay away from books that have a plot like my own. Some authors write blogs about their extensive research to share with others. Something as simple as shoes were totally different over 200 years ago. Beware of doing so much research that your story becomes bogged down with just facts, and not enough story. You can do too much research and never introduce your character to the world.

I have used Pinterest to keep pictures of my character’s lives. I can look at them and imagine what the interior of a home would look like, how my heroine may have dressed for chores, or how she may have dressed for a party.

I also dabbled in writing a western set in Wyoming territory in the early 1800s.  My heroine is a Chinese national who arrives in San Francisco on a ship. During my research for that story, I found a ship that sailed from China to that port in 1854. Now some of the other facts in my story had to be changed to fit that timeline. And that’s OK. It adds authenticity. I also needed to learn about the US Calvary, Indian tribes who were indigenous to that part of the country, and what obstacles my heroine might encounter because she was not born in the United States.

When you have all your questions answered and you begin to write, chances are you will find you have more questions. Keep researching or seek out an experienced author. I find that someone is always happy to help.

Writing Prompt: In what year did the following events take place?

  • Senator Daniel Webster endorses a bill as a measure to avert a possible civil war.
  • Millard Fillmore is sworn into office as President of the United States.
  • California is admitted as the 31st state.
  • P.T. Barnum introduces Swedish Nightingale, Jenny Lind to an American audience.

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1964 – Memories of a Summer’s Day

img_9412 copyMidsummer, 1964

In the summer of 1964, I lived in Trenton, Tennessee. West Tennessee was hot in July. How hot was it? Like my favorite aunt used to say, it’s “sitting on the front porch sipping iced-cold lemonade hot.”

I love to sit on a limb halfway up the willow tree. It’s a great place to read my library books. My long legs dangling, I watch my older brother play baseball with his friends.

Next door, a teenaged boy works on his car while the Beach Boys sing “I Get Around,” on the radio. Pilots from a nearby airfield fly test flights overhead, often breaking the sound barrier. Though initially quite shocking, we’ve grown used to the interruption.

Below me, my little brother and his best buddy sail a handmade boat in a drainage ditch. Using sticks, they push and prod the little vessel till it breaks free and begins a solo journey through the runoff toward a semi-stagnant pool at the bottom of the hill.

After a few minutes’ chatter on the neighbor’s radio, and a plug for Crest toothpaste, Jan & Dean launch into “Surf City.”

My mother appears on the other side of the screen door. “I could use some help in here.”

I drop down from my perch among the willow limbs and skip across the lawn to the front porch. Inside the house, an electric fan drones, cooling Dad’s face as he watches the news. Walter Cronkite reports that Republican Barry Goldwater has won the nomination to run for president. Race riots continue throughout the nation.


The Beatles*

As I walk through the small room, Dad doesn’t look up, just stays glued to the black-and-white television screen. Mom has a sink full of dirty dishes for me to wash while she finishes preparations for dinner.

Dad turns off the television when they start talking about The Beatles. He can’t stand the ridiculous music—the long-hair—the screaming girls. What is the world coming to?

In many ways, the early sixties were glorious. The United States was recovering from the bad years. The Depression, the Dust Bowl, World War II, the Korean War. There had been a thing called the “baby boom,” when so many children were born, following the wars. We’d entered a time of peace, but not for long. The escalation of U.S. involvement in Vietnam loomed large in our future.

Closer at hand, race riots burgeoned. It was time for equality in America. As a soon-to-be sixth grader in the South, segregation was still a fact of my life. I didn’t understand the need for it. I’d attended first and second grade in Southern California. My first grade class in San Diego included several races.

In July of 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. I wasn’t sure what all that meant, but I knew it was important. Soon, the schools, even in the South, would be desegregated. Integrated, we’d all attend the same schools. There was bound to be trouble.

I was more interested in the rockets being launched to take close-up pictures of the moon. I’d stand in the front yard after dark and gaze up at the small white orb, imagining the Ranger circling it and snapping photos. Living on the outskirts of a town of little more than five hundred residents, and few streetlights, there were stars aplenty.

It’s been fifty years since that golden summer spent in small-town America. It seemed such an innocent time. But was it really? When I think of all that was happening—the violence, the war—I wonder. We’d so recently suffered the loss of a beloved president to assassination. The race riots, as African Americans fought for equality. And Vietnam. Memories of that long and deadly war still haunt many Americans.

Owens GKs-1964Looking back, we can see the patterns of life beginning to shift. The changes came fast—a transitional phase—as America grew up. I smile as my sons speak warmly of the golden eighties, the days of their childhood, when life was simpler. Their children laugh as they dart across the lawn, playing kickball, enjoying the golden days of their youth.

And so it begins again, fifty years after 1964.



Betty Thomason Owens

*”Paul, George & John” by Omroepvereniging VARABeeld en Geluidwiki – Gallery: The Beatles. Licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0-nl via Wikimedia Commons.

The Significance of Women in WWI

July marks the 100th anniversary of World War I. All month long, we’ll look at different aspects of this war to end all wars. Today we introduce an article by our newest Crew Member, Betty Boyd.

DCF 1.0In doing research for the writing of this post, there were many notable women cited for their various contributions. What I found most significant was how the role of women changed when the United States got involved with the war in 1917.

Women’s roles prior to WWI were for domestic purposes. In previous wars fought by the United States, women served as nurses. When WWI came along, what was even more striking was the fact that women were still not allowed to vote.

For the first time, women were recruited in the Army and Navy Nurse Corps. They were assigned no rank and were able to serve both domestically and overseas. Additionally, women who were not nurses could enlist in the Navy and the Marine Corps.Women also aligned themselves with volunteer organizations such as the Red Cross, Salvation Army, and the YMCA.

The shift had begun.

The military side of things opened up new doors for women. Their roles began to expand and also their acceptance in the US Armed Forces. Almost13,000 women enlisted in the Navy and Marine Corps, were given the same status as men, and wore a uniform blouse with an insignia. Over 30,000 women would serve in the Army and Navy Nurse Corps.

As the men went overseas, women occupied various jobs that were once done by men. Employment by women jumped from just over 3 million to over 4 million by January 1918. Women worked as clerical workers in private offices and conductors on trams and buses. They also worked as engineers and toiled in the highly dangerous munitions industry. Women did heavy labor such as unloading coal, stoking furnaces, and building ships.

This was unprecedented in all of modern time.  Women were needed more than at any other period. It became hard for women to go back to just being homemakers and mothers. WWI changed women’s roles forever.

Some women of note are:

Loretta Perfectus Walsh, who became the first active-duty US Navy women. She held a non-nurse occupation while enlisted in the US Naval Reserve. Additionally, she became the first US Navy petty officer.

Frances Gulick was a welfare worker at the YMCA. She was awarded a US Army citation for valor and courage during an aerial bombardment of Varmaise, France in 1918.

Elizabeth S. Friedman worked to document the history of secret communications. She also was a crypto analyst for the Treasury Department, and broke encoded radio messages.

The significance of women in WWI cannot be underestimated. They could no longer sit on the sidelines.

WWI changed forever the landscape of women’s roles both domestically and overseas.

Betty Boyd

On a Treasure Hunt

TrailerPainting_t620I told you a bit about my “treasure-hunting” uncle in an earlier post [here]. He and my aunt have both passed on, having never really hit it big. But they always had that hope. They were always on a treasure hunt.

Perhaps Uncle Bill’s forebears went West in the late 1800’s along with thousands of others, seeking gold. Few of those struck by gold fever found the treasure they sought. But many stayed on, having found a treasure of a different sort.

This picture is not of my treasure-hunting family, but this is kind of how they started out, that first trip. What sent them down this path? A friend told them about a summer vacation destination where they could dig for gems. They hopped in the camper and set off. After talking to the owner and operator, it seemed like a good post-retirement source of income.

Not everyone finds treasure buried in their backyard. I’m not sure I’d recognize it if I did. Many gems in their raw form just look like rocks to me. But just for you, I found a list of destinations, if you’re interested in a treasure-hunting vacation. I’ll list a few of them, but there’s a better list available at Travel Channel’s History site [here].

gemstonesWhat’s your preference in gems? Opals? Emeralds? Diamonds? My personal favorite is aquamarine, since that’s my birthstone.

  1. Opals: Bonanza Opal Mine, Denio, Idaho, or Juniper Ridge Opal Mine, Lakeview, Oregon
  2. Emeralds: Emerald Hollow Mine, Hiddenite, North Carolina
  3. Diamonds: Crater of Diamonds State Park, Murfreesboro, Arkansas
  4. Aquamarine: Gem Mountain Gemstone Mine, Spruce Pine, North Carolina

Are you close to one of those, or passing through there on your next vacation? Might be a good day trip or aside to your other plans. In case you aren’t aware, the Blue Ridge Mountains are gemstone rich!

If you prefer precious metals like gold, Roaring Camp in Gold Pine Grove, California is a good place to go.

There are also Thunder Eggs or Geodes, found in Rockhound State Park, in Deming, New Mexico. Find meteorites in Glorietta Mountain, New Mexico, and Brenham Township, Kansas. Dive for Jade in Jade Cove in Big Sur, California. And pick up some turquoise at the Royston Mine in Tonopah, Nevada. I love turquoise and always thought there was only the blue-green variety. Until I visited The Grand Canyon last summer and found white, pink, and purple turquoise in the nearby gift shops.

Many people find these treasure hunts great fun, as well as an educational experience for their children. This would be especially true of the dinosaur fossils found in Devil Hills, South Dakota. Wherever you choose to look, treasure is often near. Many times we have to search for it or dig for it. But it’s there.

Happy hunting, treasure seekers. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also…” Matthew 6:21 NKJV

Betty Thomason Owens


Treasure Hunters

treasureThere are many types of Treasure Hunters. There are those who comb through attics, basements, and estates looking for valuable antiques. There are those who seek lost treasure, either sunken on ancient (or not so ancient) ships, downed aircraft, or buried treasure—buried on purpose, or by a cataclysmic event. There are dinosaur hunters. Yes, really. Dinosaur bones can translate to big money or fame, or big bones in your basement or man cave. And then there are treasure hunters who comb the earth for gems and precious metals.

I was thinking about what in the world to write about for this month’s theme when a memory wedged its way out of the past into the present. I once had an uncle who loved to hunt gems.

Uncle Bill and Aunt Earlene lived most of their lives in Oregon, but in their later years, moved to Idaho. Uncle Bill had a dream. He loved to unearth hidden treasures and dreamed of one day finding “the one.” They bought land in Idaho. It was pretty much desert, but the area was known for the gemstones just waiting to be discovered. Stones like fiery opals and jasper. He set up a small gemstone shop for tourists and provided them with the means to dig for their own treasure.

He learned how to polish the stones he’d found and he and his family made jewelry to sell in the shop. It wasn’t an easy life, but he was living his dream. What little boy doesn’t love to dig in the dirt? And what man who has once found a gem or a lump of gold, can resist the urge to continue in the hopes that more will be unearthed.

And so the treasure hunting bug takes root in the heart of a person, urging them ever onward, seeking more. Kind of like the writer who fashions a story that wins the heart of a publisher. “I did it once, I can do it again,” she says. There’s more treasure out there to be found!

All this month, we’re talking about treasure hunting at Writing Prompts and Thoughts and Ideas…Oh My! What will my fellow Writing Prompt Crew members come up with? Stop back in each Monday and Friday to find out. And don’t forget our 3 Questions Wednesdays—a little bit of a treasure hunt, since many of the Wednesday posts include a chance to win one of the interviewee’s books. Sign up to receive our post by email so you don’t miss out on the fun. And commenters on all of our regular posts will be included in a quarterly drawing for a $25 gift card. Treasures abound!

I’ll be back later this month with more about my family’s connection to Treasure Hunters and a few suggestions on where you can find treasure.

Betty Thomason Owens