On Saturday I led a workshop on Historical Research for the Montgomery County, MD, Chapter of the Maryland Writers’ Association. I covered all the avenues I pursued in researching my books Shadow of the Rock and In Rembrandt’s Shadow as well as my 90s Club cozy mysteries.
In doing this kind of research, I give my thanks and appreciation to the many specialized and local museums around the country. Many of them have knowledgeable docents there to answer questions as well as a library and archive. Their bookstores often have books or booklets about some aspect of local history and if the booklet doesn’t have the specific information you need, you have another resource, the author who may not have used the information in his book but have it on hand.
Here are a few museums that were useful to me.
The first three were resources for my mystery, The 90s Club & the Secret of the Old Clock.
The National Watch and Clock Museum. This world-class museum is located in a small town between Lancaster and York, PA, at 121 Poplar Street, Columbia, PA 17512. All ages will find this museum entertaining and educational with exhibits on the history of timekeeping and over 12,000 items including all kinds of clocks. The museum also maintains a library for researchers.
The Hampton History Museum, 120 Old Hampton Lane, Hampton, VA 23669, offers a fine collection of maps, photographs and artifacts detailing the history of Hampton, VA. The tour begins in a Kecoughtan Indian longhouse, passes through the hold of a tobacco ship and visits the ruins of the city burned to the ground during the Civil War.
Fort Monroe Casement Museum sits on an island east of Hampton, VA, within the walls of the fort. To enter, you must drive over a moat and through the gate to park inside the fort. The museum is a fascinating—and spooky—place to visit The fort is an official national monument and is operated by the Commonwealth of Virginia with curatorial support provided by the U.S. Army. It was part of the Underground Railroad during the Civil War.
The Amelia Island Museum of History, housed in an old jail in Fernandina Beach, FL, tells the story of the area’s history from the Timucua Native American tribe to Spanish and French explorers, from the lawless spirit of pirates to the dignified air of Victorian-era residents. It provides a multitude of programs for all ages and protects and shares local history with genealogists, homeowners and authors by providing a modern research facility.
In a local museum in Juneau, Alaska, I learned about the Russian boundary plate found in Alaska that I used in The 90s Club & the Hidden Staircase. It intrigued me that a number were placed around the state when Russia owned Alaska that have not been found.
Other resources include historic homes made into museums that show how people lived in different periods of time. Colonial Williamsburg, VA, is an obvious example of where to go for a look at the lifestyle, homes, and furnishings of colonial Virginia.
Cemeteries also tell stories. In an old cemetery in St. Augustine, FL, I noticed many graves with the year of death as 1918, the time of the terrible influenza epidemic that killed so many people.
Along with the many, many resources available for historic research, the most important is your own creative imagination. Where can you find what you want to know?