Our guest poster April Moore is back, with more information on her project Folsom’s 93. This week and next, she’s demonstrating how to research and do it right. Take time to congratulate April in the comments. She’s found a publisher for her book, and we’ll see it in print ‘ere too long.
I’m old enough to remember card catalogues and encyclopedias—you know, those volumes of massive books your parents bought from the guy going door-to-door selling them? Ah…those were the good old days of research. Today, you don’t even have to get out of your comfy writing chair to find out almost anything. Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, you’re guaranteed to have to do some research eventually. Here are some sources that I found invaluable during my own research:
The indispensable Internet
My endeavor began by plugging a name into Google. Nearly 3 years later, I have a book. My initial search led me to a newspaper archive site. Writing historical nonfiction, this was like striking gold. Lucky for me, since my book is about specific crimes and executions, those subjects provided plenty of newspaper fodder and I was able to score tons of information.
Newspaperarchives.com offers a one week free trial, so if you’re not sure, you can browse for free. Sometimes, certain keywords will lead you directions you hadn’t thought of, or to areas of other valuable information. Be an investigator. Keep in mind, however, that newspaper articles aren’t necessarily the most reliable resource. If you can, try to cross check as much information as you can.
The Library of Congress is another excellent source of information. Their online databases house archived newspapers, photographs, books, and film information–just to name a few.
Ancestry.com Through this site, I’ve gotten in touch with descendants of my 93 guys and their victims, and have accumulated first hand information from them. The site also lists documents such as census records, marriage and death certificates, and newspaper articles. They too, offer a free trial, so it’s worth checking out. You never know what you’ll find.
Google Books You can search through thousands of books that Google has made available. I found court cases and Supreme Court decisions online through this handy, often-free resource. Of course, not all writers love that Google does this (and for good reason) but for a researcher, it can be a life (and time) saver.
Talk to those who know
Seek out individuals who can supply you with information. Be professional and have a list of questions ready to go. You don’t need to be Katie Couric or Piers Morgan (and definitely not Howard Stern); just be yourself. Chances are, they are just as enthusiastic about the subject matter as you are and more than willing to talk with you. I’ve gotten to know the great folks at the Folsom Prison Museum and they’ve been a huge help. One thing I’ve learned when it comes to interviews, especially regarding their executed relative, or murdered family member, is to broach the subject tactfully, professionally and with sincerity. You’re more likely to get someone to open up without bombarding them right off the bat; make them feel comfortable first.
Tune in next week for part two of April’s The Art of Research.