Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Sharing Research

This is a research day on A Writer's Wisdom Wednesdays, and I asked Vickie McDonough to answer the following questions: 

"You're the author of a number of historicals set in the 1800s. How important is it to you to connect with other historical writers of your time period who are willing to share what they have learned through their research? Do you have three or four of your personal favorite sites, books, or blogs you can share here, and what makes each special to you?" - Sandy

Vickie: Thank you for having me as a guest, Sandy. I’m excited to be here.

In this day and time, researching a historical novel is far easier than it’s ever been. The Internet makes researching a topic fairly simple and quick, but you do need to be sure that the information you find is correct. It’s always a good idea to find at least three sources for the same information before you trust it to be accurate.

Online writers groups are another modern resource. I’m a member of several, including ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) and a couple of local groups. It’s nice to have other writers, especially those who write in your genre, to bounce ideas off of and to go to for research help. I’m in one group that is especially helpful as it’s a group of 150 writers who all write books set in the 19th century. This allows us to discuss topics that relate to all of our books, and we benefit from each member’s special expertise.

Finding tiny details is often hard, but those minute details, like the kinds of flowers that grow in the town I’m writing about or the type of fabric my heroine’s dress is made of really make the story come alive to my readers. They can see the vivid color and scent of the flowers in their mind and hear the swish of the heroine’s silk dress when you give them the details. There are many great websites to help with this kind of information.

One of my favorites is the Food Timeline:

This website is a wealth of information, all about food. I found the name of a historical cookbook that my current heroine will be using. Besides checking out the timeline on the Home page, be sure to click on the ‘Food history A-Z’ link to discover gobs of food information and history. And if you don’t find what you need there, you can email the website’s owner, Lynne Oliver, who very graciously answers questions and helps with additional research.

When I need to know the types of flowers, shrubs, and trees in a specific area, I’ll Google “native flowers of Kansas”—or whatever state I’m writing about. Here’s a good one I found yesterday: Most states have similar websites.

Tip: Another good way to find local flora and fauna is to do a search on ‘ranches for sale’ in the area you’re writing about. Often the ads will list the wildlife and types of trees and grasses that are found in the area, as well as include some fabulous photos. I’ve found this usually works better for ranches with a western setting.

Historical societies are another place to find excellent information, and they often include links to other sites. Here’s the one for Kansas:  (Can you guess where my current series is set?)

I’ve written a number of books set in Texas, and my favorite research site for that state is The Handbook of Texas Online. You can find it by going to the Texas State Historical Association: There is an incredible wealth of information on Texas history there.

Texas Bob has lots of interesting info on his website, including a fabulous Texas Timeline:

When I get stuck and need a new way to describe a physical attribute, I go to The Book Thesaurus website:  I love this site. If you scroll down, on the right-hand side is a list of different kinds of thesauruses, from a Physical Attributes thesaurus, to Color and Shapes, Emotions, to a Settings thesaurus. This website is gold, and any writer not using it as a resource is missing out.

One final website I’d like to share is an especially important one. When you write a historical, no matter the time period, you want to be sure to use words that were in use then. Nothing jars you more than reading a historical set in the 1870s and to read that the hero carved a toy truck for a child. A great website for finding when a word was first used is

I could go on and on, but I don’t want to bore you. Research can be tedious but it doesn’t have to be difficult.


Vickie McDonough is an award-winning author of 26 books and novellas. Her novels include the fun and feisty Texas Boardinghouse Brides series and the 3rd & 6th books in the Texas Trails series. Her novel, Long Trail Home, won the Inspirational category of the 2012 Booksellers’ Best Awards. Watch for Vickie’s new series Pioneer Promises, which is set in 1870s Kansas. The first book, Whispers on the Prairie, releases this summer. To learn more about Vickie, visit her website:

So, what about you? Do you have a group or people with whom you share research resources? What are some of your favorite internet sites for research (and it doesn't have to be historical)? Let's exchange ideas and sources for various genres.


  1. Wow! Some great tips and links here, Vickie. Thanks for sharing!

    I LOVE research! Recently, I emailed the CIA liaison with questions, and Hubby joked that men in suits would show up on our doorstep. lol. For my current wip, we actually visited a llama ranch. It's all so much fun!

    1. Does this mean we can expect another romantic suspense, Dora? How did you find a name to contact?

    2. Actually, the CIA research was for WHEN TRUTH WHISPERS, releasing on 3/15. I found the link while researching the CIA website. lol

  2. Dora,

    I bet it was fun to visit a llama ranch. I'm not sure I've ever seen one up close. Did you get a lot of info from the CIA liaison?

    Thanks for stopping by!

    1. Hey, Vickie. The llama farm was a blast and the visit educational and informative.

      After scouring the CIA website and plotting my story first, I emailed the liaison my questions. He was helpful, but with rather generic answers. At least, he didn't blow any holes through my story. :-)

  3. I have another link to share--it's a brand new one.

    Thirty historical authors have banded together to present a daily blog on all things historical. Each day a new topic will be posted, and this month, there is a daily giveaway to one lucky commenter, culminating with a Kindle drawing at the end of the month.

    Stop by and check it out. On March 10th, I'll be talking about samplers.

  4. Wonderful information, Vickie, and the websites are terrific. I also think it's important to use names fitting the period. Of course I would never use the time-appropriate name Olga (it's a family name, I can insult it LOL) for an 1800's heroine, but I wouldn't name her Tiffany, either. Good stuff.

    1. Tanya,

      I'm glad you enjoyed the websites. I'm pretty sure I read a book with a heroine named Olga, but it was a long time ago. Sometimes it's hard for me to find a historical name I like well enough to use it for my heroine, especially since I've written a number of books. I've started using my favorite ones over. :)

  5. I've always focused on writing contemporaries. But this past year, I've been working on my first historical romance, and I think I've gotten hooked. The research can be daunting at times, especially when it takes hours to find the answer (or not) to one simple thing. Thanks for these great tips, Vickie.

    1. I know just what you mean, Dawn. It can take 2 hours to find out if napkins were used in your time period. A recent question I had for my wip was whether colored pencils were used in the 1870s. And when you finally find what you're looking for, there can be info that contradicts that. But I love writing my historicals. I hope you have fun with yours. What's the setting?

    2. The story takes place in 1902 in my small Wisconsin hometown. The community had some glory days in the past, and fortunately for me,several local "historians" put together a small book when the town celebrated 100 years. It helped a lot, but some things were still vague. Like when certain businesses actually existed.

    3. Have you considered creating a fictional town based on the real one? That would give you some liberties and allow you to make up the businesses you need?


We'd love to hear your thoughts! Please leave comments. We'll moderate and post them!