Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Old News is Good News

By Keli Gwyn

I'm a newly contracted Love Inspired Historical author smitten with the Victorian Era. I live in the heart of California's Gold Country, where I set my stories.

My historic town of Placerville is home to the state's oldest newspaper. The Mountain Democrat harkens back to 1854.

 
When I began writing my historical romances and delved into research of the area, I learned that our local library has the Mountain Democrat on microfilm dating back to the paper's earliest issues. The day I made that discovery, I felt like I'd hit the Mother Lode. 



After a quick refresher in how to use a microfilm reader--a skill I learned in the Dark Ages when I was in high school--I spent several blissful hours scrolling through issues from the 1870s. Time stood still as I jotted page after page of notes.


I set my stories in actual Gold Rush-era towns. By reading the advertisements, announcements and articles in the old issues of the paper, I'm able to add real people, places and events to my stories. 


 
My perusals of the paper have yielded some great finds. I've learned where businesses were located and what they sold; when special events such as balls, concerts and benefits took place and who provided the entertainment; and what first and last names people in this area had in that era.

I'm starting a new story, so guess where I'll be spending some time? Yes. Parked in front of the microfilm reader at the library reading the Mountain Democrat and learning even more about this wonderful area I'm blessed to call home.
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Have you ever used a microfilm (microfiche) reader?

What fun facts have you learned from reading old newspapers?

22 comments:

Carolyn Greene said...

What fun! I love the blend of fact and fiction.

I'd be so tempted to just sit there and read all day. How do you know when it's time to quit researching?

Christine Johnson said...

Welcome, Keli! I love the blend of fact with fiction and look forward to reading your books.

As a librarian, microfilm readers are old friends. As a writer, my last encounter with one happened this winter when I was able to read the admiralty court records in Key West from 1850. A treasure trove indeed! Love the advertisements you found. They did like the flowery language back then, didn't they?

Pamela Tracy said...

Yup, I've used one. The college where I teach had one up until about seven years ago. I had it on my English scavenger hunt. I was probably the only one sad to see it go.

Dana Mentink said...

Love the gold country! I didn't know people still used microfilm! Thanks for sharing.

Sandra Orchard said...

Wow, what an awesome find, Keli! Yup, I used microfilm in university, but never since...maybe if I ever write a historical. :D

Keli Gwyn said...

Carolyn, time seems to stand still when I start reading the early issues of the paper. Thankfully there isn't a line of people waiting to use the microfilm readers these days like there was when I used them back in high school. That's good, since I've been known to sit there scrolling for three hours or more. Hunger is usually what pulls me away.

Keli Gwyn said...

Christine, I didn't know you were a librarian. What a wonderful job that must be. I've always loved visiting the library and wondered what it would be like to work in one, surrounded by books and interacting with readers. Sounds like a bit of heaven on earth.

How neat that you were able to read those admiralty court records. Like you, I love the period language. The Victorians used words with flair. I marvel at their vocabularies.

Keli Gwyn said...

Pamela, I love that you're a college professor teaching English. That's another job I'm sure I would enjoy. It's neat that you used the microfilm reader in your scavenger hunt. I wish my college profs would have used that fun teaching method.

Keli Gwyn said...

Dana, I love living in California's Gold Country. The rich history of the area is a source of much joy. Gwynly and I visit other Gold Rush towns quite frequently, and I never fail to unearth some treasured tidbits of times past. (Yes, I love alliteration and puns. *grin*)

Keli Gwyn said...

Sandra, I'm sure there must be something you could research for your contemporaries in old newspapers or periodicals stored on microfilm. Maybe something from the past could yield a plot twist, poison or procedure that would surprise modern readers. Ya never know. ;-)

Merrillee said...

Keli, welcome to the blog. It's been years since I microfilm. My daughter is an academic librarian and works at digitizing things like that.

Leann Harris said...

Welcome, Keli. I remember using those microfilm readers to do my first book, which I set in Denver 1876. That little treasure will never see the light of day, but doing the research there in Denver was so much fun.

Winnie Griggs said...

Keli, I have used both a microfilm and microfiche reader, but it has been MANY years ago. And what a great resource you've found! Primary sources are usually best for getting a good feel for the period

Keli Gwyn said...

Thanks for the welcome, Merrillee. I'm so honored to be one of the "Craftie Ladies of Love Inspired Romance."

How proud you must be to have a daughter working as an academic librarian. I'm glad the old records on microfilm/microfiche are being digitized so future generations can benefit from them.

Keli Gwyn said...

Leann, like you I did research for my very first story using a microfilm reader--and produced a story that will remain buried in the remote recesses of my computer's hard drive. Ah, the joy of writing those practice books.

Keli Gwyn said...

Winnie, I love working with primary resources whenever possible. Our historic newspaper is one of my favorite resources. Another is a history of the early days of my county that was written in the 1880s. The writer was able to interview the people who founded El Dorado County. That particular book was pricy, but it was worth every cent.

CatMom said...

Oh Keli, how fascinating and fun your research must be!
This brought back memories from *many* years ago--when I had to use the microfiche in my college library. But I don't recall being excited about whatever we were researching at the time, LOL.
What you're doing DOES sound exciting, though, and I cannot wait to read your next historical!
Hugs, Patti Jo :)

Keli Gwyn said...

Patti Jo, I'm with you. I did plenty of research on microfilm readers in high school and college that wasn't a whole lot of fun. I've changed my tune these days and can't get my fill of research. The bulging shelves of reference books in my office are a testimony to that. :-)

Danica Favorite said...

This is great, Keli! I haven't used one in years, but I think I want to go see if I can still do it.

Keli Gwyn said...

Danica, I find it fun to revisit this old form of information storage. It whisks me back in time to my high school days when wrinkles and gray hairs were something my grandparents dealt with. Of course, the fact that I had to have a reference librarian give me a refresher course in how to operate a microfilm reader made me feel my age. LOL

Sybil Bates McCormack said...

Hi, Keli. What a phenomenal find. I last used microfiche in college while working as a research assistant for an English professor. I can certainly understand why you'd find yourself passing hours at a time doing research that way. It's so easy to be transported into the past through the imagery, the word usage, etc. I can't wait to see what you're able to come up with in your stories as a result of the visits.

Keli Gwyn said...

Sybil, what fun it must have been to work as a research assistant, and for pay no less. When I worked as an assistant editor for a small publishing house back in the Dark Ages, I got to do research for the textbooks we produced. It was so much harder to find facts in those pre-Internet days, wasn't it?