Monday, April 5, 2010

Historical Research

My curiosity got the best of me in 1994, when my cousin showed me the marriage and birth writings in the front of my grandmother’s Bible. My quest to find the spiritual heritage in my ancestry had begun. For approximately twelve years after that, between writing and homeschooling, I traced genealogy.

I proved (with census records, birth, death, marriage certificates) my Civil War, Revolutionary War, and Mayflower descendants. I now share an honor with fellow authors, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Laura Ingalls Wilder of being Richard Warren’s descendant. I also descend from Francis Cooke since Richard’s daughter, Sarah married John, Francis’ son. Grandma Moses, folk style painter and Orson Wells share in Cooke’s genealogy. Richard Gere and I are in both lines.

Now my days are spent using the information I gleaned over the years to craft my historical pictures. From glimpses of my coal miners in Clay County, Indiana, to my French heritage in lower Canada, ideas abound.

I once did a road trip that took me to Juniata, Huntingdon, and Mifflin counties in Pennsylvania. From there, I took a side trip to Gettysburg on my way to Springfield, Massachusetts. From Springfield, I traveled former Indian trails that propelled me up into Vermont to Rutland and the surrounding area.

On the next leg, I took a car ferry across Lake Champlain to Ticonderoga, New York, to research my blacksmiths there. Near the end of my journey, I traveled down to Montgomery County, New York, to research my railroad man and other ancestors who traveled from there through canals and on wagon trains up to Outagamie, Wisconsin. Yes, on a separate trip, I went to Wisconsin to find marriage licenses, but that one elusive record in St. Louis still calls my name.

Even if you’re not a genealogy nut, excellent resources abound for those of you who write historical novels. If I gained nothing else from all my years of hunting, I achieved the skill to research, and I love it.

Obviously, the number one resource for history is local libraries. The Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne has the second largest genealogy repository in the United States. Check out historical societies and the Indiana Room in your local library for historical books and microfilmed newspapers. The Indiana State Archives in Indianapolis holds many secrets like my grandmother’s adoption papers.

Verify everything you read online before using it. One good site is This site holds treasures from every state in the United States, and it is free. You’ll never exhaust their offerings. Another fascinating site is a free site that links you to records across the world including ship lists.

Check out cemeteries in the middle of nowhere. Yes. Interesting things can happen like suddenly realizing - while you are doing a rubbing of a touching poem etched on the gravestone of a Civil War ancestor - that you have locked your phone and keys in the car. (Copyrighted)

Have fun with your historical research. Above all else, remember: Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart as working for the Lord, not for men. Colossians 3:23

Donna L. Rich


  1. What fun, Donna!

    I've heard good stuff about Allen County's geneaology collection. I hope to look up my Quaker ancestors sometimes at Earlham College Library in Richmond.

  2. I LOVE cemeteries! When I'm riding my motorcycle I always want to stop and visit the small ones I see.

    I'm a Daughter of the American Revolution and had to do a lot of studying of my family tree to become a member. Oh, the stories to write about! I also have Civil War ancestors. On both sides of my family. We don't go clear back to the Mayflower, though. However, my husband does -- he's a Native American. :-)

  3. Fascinating, Donna! Partly because I've also been using my ancestors for my historical novels, and I gleaned some great tips from you. . . and guess what?? I ALSO locked my keys and phone in my car while researching and rubbing gravestones. . . hey, just "fooling" -- I saw your c. and couldn't resist having some fun. . . Heritage blessings! :-)

  4. Oh, Ann, let me know if you do. I'll give you the name of my great-great gm to look up. :"

  5. Karla, I'd be interested sometime to hear about those ancestors. I just can't seem to pull myself away from genealogy. Especially with that new program on TV called "Who do you think you are."

  6. Millie, I'll sell that idea to you for a price. Ha, only kidding. That would make a good scene in someone's book. :)

  7. I have tons of stories from my ancestors--one great-aunt in particular wrote so much about Norway and then coming to America. She was like Laura Ingalls. I always thought I would write those stories. My cousin actually published a few of them as children's stories before she died.

    Wow, there is so much to do with research on historicals--my favorite type of book to read. I love them. And I'm with all of you who love digging. I even joined and am having amazing success.

    Fun, Donna!