word craft


Finding a Gem of Information

I’m often asked about the research I do for my his­tor­i­cal-fic­tion nov­els. That is deter­mined, first, by the nature of the book I am writ­ing. If I am try­ing to set a sto­ry with­in the con­text of real events, real peo­ple, in real places, that requires rather deep research. If I am only using a set­ting, that requires anoth­er, shal­low­er lev­el of research. And so forth. Being a for­mer librar­i­an, some­one who used to teach col­lege stu­dents how to do research, I don’t find the process dif­fi­cult, and, indeed, enjoy­ing doing it. 

Iron ThunderLet it be acknowl­edged, I rarely search out orig­i­nal sources. That said, I did a lot of that for my book, Iron Thun­der, and the Crispin books.

But, some­one asks, do you use the inter­net? For the most part, the answer is no. Still, when I need spe­cif­ic data, it can be very use­ful. If you make sure of sources, the inter­net can be helpful.

For exam­ple, what was the pop­u­la­tion of Boston, in 1775? (6,753) In the same fash­ion, I can tell you on what day July 4, 1776 fell. A Thurs­day. And even, if there was a cel­e­bra­to­ry march that night, what stage was the moon in North Amer­i­ca? Almost a full moon, but wan­ing. That kind of infor­ma­tion, I think, can enrich my story.

But not long ago, using the inter­net, I locat­ed a real gem of infor­ma­tion. In my nov­el I need­ed to describe a boy, abut thir­teen years of age, and what he was wear­ing. Descrip­tions of young people’s cloth­ing are hard to find and, when found, usu­al­ly per­tain to upper-class chil­dren. There are many more paint­ings of those kids.

Boy's jacket, CT Historical Society
Boy’s jack­et, about 1775–1785, Con­necti­cut His­tor­i­cal Soci­ety Muse­um & Library

But here is an image and infor­ma­tion that came from the Con­necti­cut His­tor­i­cal Soci­ety via the internet.

Boy’s Jack­et Date: about 1775–1785: Pri­ma­ry Mak­er: Unknown Medi­um: Hand-stitched linen, with pewter buttons.

Made of brown home­spun linen fab­ric, this jack­et was found in the wall of a house in Guil­ford, Conn. when the build­ing was under­go­ing ren­o­va­tion. Although shoes are occa­sion­al­ly found in walls of 18th cen­tu­ry homes (a cus­tom that may be con­nect­ed to folk­lore or super­sti­tions orig­i­nat­ing in the British Isles), the dis­cov­ery of a full gar­ment is extreme­ly unusu­al. The coarse medi­um-weight fab­ric was undoubt­ed­ly pro­duced local­ly, per­haps by the wear­er’s own house­hold, and the pewter but­tons may also have been “home-made,” as the low melt­ing point of pewter allowed for rel­a­tive­ly sim­ple man­u­fac­ture with a but­ton mold. The jack­et doc­u­ments the kind of ordi­nary cloth­ing worn by a work­ing man in the late 18th cen­tu­ry; it is a rare sur­vivor, in that gar­ments of this sort were usu­al­ly worn out, and at the point when they could no longer be repaired, the linen fab­ric was sold to rag deal­ers for paper-mak­ing. There is obvi­ous wear and some dam­age to this jack­et, how­ev­er, giv­en its his­to­ry of use and cir­cum­stance of its preser­va­tion, it is in sur­pris­ing­ly good condition.

1 thought on “Finding a Gem of Information”

  1. That jack­et is amaz­ing. A copy of “The Dic­tio­nary of Cos­tume” is on my per­son­al research shelf. I refer to it often when writ­ing. Clothing/underwear/hates/etc. for men, women, and chil­dren are divid­ed into cen­turies and then decades and labeled with the types (names, fab­rics, styles, etc.) used, includ­ing sketch­es. But find­ing things in muse­ums is excel­lent for dis­cov­er­ing the col­or and tex­ture of the clothing.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Recent Posts