Monday, February 2, 2009

Mentor Monday--Research Tip

This was titled, "Mrs. John Jacob Rogers at Veterans Bureau, 11/18/25."

I love doing research! Sometimes, though, I hit a snag when looking for a particular person or thing in newspapers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. So here's my tip: be aware of the customs and language of the era you are researching. For instance, I was looking for items on the woman legislator, Edith Nourse Rogers. I found a few, but when I started looking with the term, "Mrs. John Jacob Rogers," the hits doubled. Edith Rogers lived from 1881 through 1960. During that time, women were often referred to by their husbands' names prefixed with the title, Mrs.

You and I may rail at the injustice of a woman's name being omitted, but it was the way things were done! (Hey, don't get me started!)

Another time I was looking for photos of American children during World War II. I put in the search term "children" and got some, but I knew there had to be more. In my reading I found that kids were often referred to as "youngsters," so I started using the search term "youngster" and bingo!

Titled, "Dance frock of taffeta." When was the last time, if ever, you called a dress a frock?

So how do you find the terms you need?

  • Use a thesaurus! Even better, find an older edition. I have one that's about 40 years old. I found it at a book sale and some of the synonyms included in it are not found in my contemporary thesaurus.

  • Read a small town newspaper from the era. Find a copy online or at a library on microform and read it through. You'll get a feel for the common language being used.

  • Here's a tough assignment--watch old movies! Or, look for some of the PBS American Experience programs on DVD.

  • Go to your local public library and find a set of books that covers the decades. For example, there's an old Time-Life series called "This Fabulous Century," which I've seen on many libraries' shelves. It contains newspaper clippings, photos, advertisements, etc.

    A few years back Writer's Digest Books put out a "Writer's Guide to Everyday Life" series specifically for writers. The Writer's Guide to Everyday Life from Prohibition Through World War II by Marc McCutcheon is one.

  • All this extra work will pay off in your writing, as well as your research!



    Anonymous said...

    I agree, Diane! You've got to be really creative, paying attention, and a divergent thinker to be a good researcher.

    It's so much fun!

    Sally said...

    what a great tip, Diane!