Sunday, March 21, 2010

Resources for Writers #10: Think Local

Local lore is full of ideas for stories and information to use in them. I've been 'into' genealogy since I was old enough to hold a #2 pencil and write down 'family trees' dictated by grandparents held hostage to my curiosity. It's paid off.
  • How about X who came to Texas and was never heard of again? 
  •  Or the great-grandfather who shot his stepfather and ran off, and when the law caught up to him, was told to "come on home--the man needed killing". 
  • the beautiful great-aunt who died of diphtheria at the age of 19--what dreams did she leave behind?
  • the grandmother who taught in a one-room school on a ranch in the Panhandle of Texas before her marriage. 
  • the second cousin whose mother never saw him again after the age of 4 or 5--and for what reason? 
  • the young man who went back to Alabama to fetch his intended bride and ended up bringing her widowed mother and three teen-aged siblings along with him. 
  • the great-great-uncle who, wounded, lay still and listened to two Union officers say, "Don't waste a bullet on the Reb; he's dying anyway" before a woman and her daughter took him to their farm and nursed him back to health. (He lived to father something like 14 children!) 
  • the infant brother whose records mysteriously disappeared from the hospital after his supposed death
  • the little boy who lay on a quilt on the floor, between his two grandmothers, listening to them discuss who would take him now that both parents were dead 
  • Did your grandmother have a 'lost love' ?
I could go on, but you get the idea. Granted, I'm older than some and had grandparents born before 1900 whose tongues didn't have to be pried loose. But you've all heard things.
  • Visit your local library and hit the genealogy section. 
  • Visit the nearest college or university library and do the same. Look for county histories, those books compiled from pictures and articles written by descendants of the first settlers in the area.
  • Read old city directories--houses have histories, too. 
  • Thumb through old telephone directories--in particular, the yellow pages.
  • Read old newspapers on microfilm. (A supply of peppermints will ward off 'motion sickness', also frequent breaks!)
  • Stand on the street corner in a historic section of town and will yourself  back in time. Where were the saloons? the brothels? the legitimate businesses? (Every town had all of them!)
  • Go into an old building still in use and look beyond the renovations. What does the owner know about it? (You might even hear about a resident ghost!)
  • Browse antique stores--you never know what you'll see that will spark an idea or fit right into your WIP. 
  • Find a site that posts older death certificates online. The tragedies there will break your heart--and the hearts of your readers.
  • Walk through the old section of a cemetery and read the epitaphs. Stand in the section reserved for 'paupers' (in older vocabulary) and consider the circumstances that made such a place necessary.
Research is a living, breathing thing--and it isn't just for historical writing. Write contemporary? Remember that what happened a hundred years ago is still happening today.

So put away the traditional books and turn off the computer. Arm yourself with camera, notebook, and tape recorder, and GO. Your next out there waiting for you.


Penny Rader said...

Just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate your Resources and Book Review posts.
Great stuff! Thanks for sharing.

Mary Ricksen said...

Great post. I guess you have checked into all four grandparents!

Debra St. John said...

Great ideas! Local Historical Societies have amazing collections and stories to share.

K9friend said...

Wonderful ideas for a story. What a great way to help break out of a writer's block!