In looking back on my posts, I see it’s been quite a while since I wrote anything about research. When I did, it was mostly in connection with books I was writing. Yes, books do require research, even if you’re writing about a contemporary topic, but certainly if the novel is set somewhere in the past, or if you’re writing non-fiction. In actual fact, however, I see that some of my recent posts included discussion of research, so I’ve gone back and edited their categories to include it.
My research of late, however, is of a different kind: genealogy. I finished research for Documenting America: Civil War Edition in June. Before that I had research for Preserve The Revelation, which I finished around April, while I was writing it. Both of those involved pleasant research—research that was fulfilling.
But I never completely give up on my genealogy research. I’m always looking for that elusive ancestor. Several posts ago I wrote something about this: how I never could get information about my maternal grandfather; about how I thought I had finally found him. I still haven’t gone the route of seeking confirmation through DNA testing. That’s something I will eventually do. Meanwhile, I’m 99.99% certain that the man I found is indeed my grandfather.
Found, not in the sense of him being alive, but in the sense of learning who he was, where he was, and confirming what little family lore I had. That has involved research. Since I’m not in a position of traveling, my research has been on the internet.
As I mentioned many years ago, research has tentacles. You research one thing and find it or learn it, but that only leads you to look at two other things. Then research and find those two things, and suddenly your research to-do list have five more things on them. Except, since it’s all a matter of looking for reliable sources on the internet, and steering away from unreliable sources, the research tends to go so fast you don’t even mess with a to-do list. You just move the mouse and click.
As I said, my current research has mostly to do with my grandfather. Born in 1882 (based on my research; some sources say 1881, some 1883; the most reliable say 1882), I’m finding tons about him. One of his sons, a half-brother to my mother, had written a family history based on interviews with his dad (my grandfather). One interesting item was that he had been in the militia in Canada before going on active duty in WW1. This family history, however, said that he was called up with the militia to take part in a peace-keeping action due to a violent strike, this taking place on Vancouver Island. The town he mentioned was Ladysmith.
Could this be true? If grandfather told it to his son, you’d think it would be true, end of story. Confirmation is nice, however, so I decided to look for history about this peace-keeping action. Who knows but that his name may show up in some official record. I usually start with Wikipedia. Much maligned, I find it is mostly reliable. Like any source, confirmation is always advisable. I looked for such things as “Ladysmith-strike” and “Canada strikes 1913”, and found nothing. I did find a page for Ladysmith, however, that included this entry:
Ladysmith has been notable in the history of the labour movement with significant unrest and violence during the major strikes of the 1913–1914 era. During this time militia were dispatched to put down unrest and protect property.
That’s sort of confirmation, but it was given in Wikipedia without any source citation. I decided to look for newspapers. Several large databases of digitized newspapers exist. They are all behind paywalls, and I have no access to them. I find, however, that some of the databases give a snippet of text with them. I hoped for that for a 1913 newspaper on Vancouver Island. I remembered I had already found one newspaper, the full edition as picture and text, at archive.org. I found it while searching for grandfather’s third marriage, which I found in a newspaper out of Victoria BC. Might more of it be on-line?
I went to my browsing history, found the paper I’d already seen, and brought it up. Following links at archive.org, I discovered that many editions of the newspaper on-line, including all issues between 1912 and 1918. Bingo! I searched through 1913, and found the stories about the labor strike (International Mine Workers, representing the coal laborers), the violence associated with it, unsuccessful police attempts to quell it, and finally calling up the militia in early August 1913—exactly the time given in my uncle’s family history.
I have much more to read in these newspapers, including going back to 1911 for some items. This will take much more time than I have right now. Hopefully these newspapers will still be there when I retire.
But I had another success. I wanted to find out more about grandfather’s first wife, the one who divorced him before he married (maybe married, that is) my grandmother in St. Lucia during the war. After many mouse movement, many clicks, and following my intuition, I found information on her birth, found her in the census, found a marriage index for her and grandfather’s wedding, found evidence that they were indeed divorced during the war (just as grandmother told me), and even found a record of her death, in Taft, California, in 1938.
I discussed this with my half-sister, who seemed surprised that I had been able to find that much. I told her “I just moves and points the mouse and the magic happens.” Sometimes I think that’s true. To some extent, it might be my ability to reason things out, anticipate the most likely outcome, and focus on that till I find success.
For whatever the reason, I’m glad for it.