How Research Creates Historical Novels…

… And helps with historical treatment.

I hated history in my youth. But now? I love research. It takes my mind to places that existed long before and can exist again in a historical novel.

The Library of Congress – Historical Newspapers – can take you back to the late 1800’s. I needed 1901 so I found myself in good shape (except I spent hours upon hours finding interesting articles that had nothing to do with my MS, The Last Bordello.) Once I focused, ALL these articles played a pivotal role in my plot line. (I had many more, these are just a few.)

Let’s start with the secondary, still-important, characters and work our way down to Madam Fannie Porter.


The Women’s Christian Temperance Union:







Now, for a sense of place:




The politicians, Mayor Hicks, former Mayor Bryan Callaghan, Captain James Van Riper:







The “then” never solved murder of Helen Madarasz.





The outlaws:

Screenshot 2014-11-24 13.21.45


Now, Madam Fannie Porter:






After reading this article, I found a writer’s connection to the man Madam Fannie may have married, and the location that was plausible for meeting Butch Cassidy for the first time.


If you are writing historical fiction, The Library of Congress is a great place to start!

Keep writing,



Published by

Carolyn Dennis-Willingham

Carolyn is the author of two published books – No Hill for a Stepper, 2001, and The Last Bordello, 2016. Her third novel, The Moonshine Thicket, is set in 1928 and is currently enduring a professional edit. When not on her laptop, she serves as a lap top for her grandchildren. She is a retired Early Childhood Specialist, a fitness boxer, artist, and a ball thrower for her ever-persistent mini Aussie. In addition to her blogging website,, you may find her on Facebook and Twitter.

5 thoughts on “How Research Creates Historical Novels…

  1. Totally agree, but the problem I have with the Library of Congress newspapers is that they only go up to 1922. I use primarily, but the Library of Congress site has a couple newspaper titles that Newspaperarchives doesn’t have.


  2. I know what you mean about how it all comes together as soon as you manage to focus and distill your research into a manageable set of goals. It’s something I struggled with for a long time, and I used research as a procrastination tool. As long as I was “busy” researching, I could avoid confronting the underlying problems: lack of confidence, a weak story outline, etc. Luckily I got my act together, and now I make research-oriented planners for writers and teach people how to laser-focus their research strategies 🙂


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