I love historical research almost as much as I love writing historical romance—some days, depending on how the writing is going, I love research even more! One of my favorite ways to get acquainted with my setting is by finding old newspapers writing during that time and, if possible, in that location.
By the mid-1800s, nearly every Western town of any size had at least one newspaper that kept a printing press busy. Many had more than one, and press wars—while they seem to be current—really do originate way back when. In their quest to be the best, as they do now, reporters were always looking for a blockbuster story. Sometimes they made it up, but newspapermen—and newspaperwomen—who cared about their craft would go to great lengths to get the story. In a time when photographs were not so easily available, words had to do the job of showing the reader the story.
When I created the character of Madeline Latour, my intrepid reporter for the New Orleans Picayune who goes west to get her story in my novel My Heart Belongs in Galveston, Texas (Barbour Books, July 2018), I knew she would have to be the type of person whose editor would trust to bring in the big story. She had to have a spirit of adventure to go along with her desire to bring the truth to her readers. Since Galveston, Texas is a real location, Madeline also had to exist within the framework of what was actually happening in Galveston—and in Texas–in the spring of 1880.
And that is where the real fun began. I went to the archives of the Galveston Daily News and read everything I could get my hand—or rather eyes—on. My favorite part of putting real life into historical fiction was to read the social column and the advertisements.
I found a mention of a party that happened in the same week my characters arrived in Texas, so of course Madeline and Jonah attended. As well as this mention in the society column, a story chronicling the benefits of Dr. C. McLane’s Liver Pills and an advertisement for the Hazard Powder Company Blasting and Mining Powder actually appeared in the March 26, 1880 edition on the third page. Obviously there was no gossip about my fictional characters in that episode, although there were other interesting articles and advertisements. These included one for Jenkins’s Annihilator cure for rheumatism, gout and neuralgia, and another assuring readers that a cure for opium addiction could be found by purchasing morphine from the doctor who placed the ad. The name of the doctor in the opium cure ad is too blurry to read, which is probably just as well.
So the next time you’re curious about an area or an era, an incident or a person of historical significance in the Old West, check out the local papers. Imagine what your Old West character could do with some blasting and mining powder or a vial or two of morphine. Not only can you find out where he or she could have purchased it, but you can probably find an article or two detailing what happened afterward.
I will be giving away one copy of MY HEART BELONGS IN GALVESTON, TEXAS to one commenter from the UNITED STATES.
BIO: Bestselling author Kathleen Y’Barbo is a multiple Carol Award and RITA nominee and author of more than ninety books with almost two million copies of her books in print in the US and abroad. A tenth-generation Texan and certified paralegal, she has been nominated for a Career Achievement Award as well a Reader’s Choice Award and several Top Picks by Romantic Times magazine. She is a member of ACFW, Novelists Inc., and the Texas Bar Association Paralegal Division.
Kathleen celebrated her fifteenth year as a published author by receiving the Romantic Times Inspirational Romance Book of the Year Award for her historical romantic suspense Sadie’s Secret, a Secret Lives of Will Tucker novel. Her novels celebrate life, love and the Lord—and whenever she can manage it, her home state of Texas. Recent releases include 2018 CBA Bestseller The Pirate Bride and the newly released My Heart Belongs in Galveston, Texas.