#TBT Research Done Right (or not!)

Research is fascinating to me. The first hint of a question, a puzzle, a mystery fires my imagination. That is why I poured so much time and travel and effort into uncovering who the girls were who inspired the various landmarks across the United States in their honor. Over the years of doing that research, though, not everything went smoothly. (To say the least!)

For example, traipsing through rain soaked grass was not my idea of fun, but I and my long-suffering husband did so many times to photograph the graves and road side historic markers of some of the girls. Don’t even try to count the number of times I became lost in unfamiliar back roads and busy cities looking for parks or statues.

But researching for Vinnie Ream’s story brings back a sense of alarm and near panic like no other research trip. In fact, my heart tightens at the memory.

It all started with a trip to Arlington National Cemetery, technically in Arlington, Virginia, across the Potomac River from downtown D.C. I’ve been there several times before, on field trips while a schoolgirl and for family funerals. This visit proved different because my brother-in-law (BIL) went with me to help me navigate through the many lanes and tombstones to locate the correct section (Section 3 on Miles Drive) of the cemetery.

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We found the monument to Vinnie Ream without much trouble, that was the easy part. I sat down on the little white stone bench and made some notes, soaked in the atmosphere of the quiet stillness, the peace of the park-like setting. The monument rose up before me, featuring a bronze of Vinnie’s own statue of Sappho.

Then it was time to leave because my brother-in-law had to return to work across the bridge in D.C., and I had to hit the road for my next stop in central Virginia. So we hurried away, on to our separate tasks. And that is when disaster struck, though I didn’t know it at that moment.

Several hours later as I neared Harrisonburg, Virginia, I realized I had left behind my Day Runner calendar/address book. Oh – my – god! Where was it? I searched the front seat of the car and then my heart stuttered. It wasn’t with me. It was – memory kicked in finally – laying on the little white stone bench in the cemetery! My heart raced as I frantically thought through what appointments I had in the upcoming week, the contact information contained solely within those pages. I could envision missing important client meetings and doctor appointments due to my Swiss cheese memory.

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By this time I was several hundred miles away and didn’t have enough time to drive back before the cemetery gates closed. Feeling my pulse hammering in my ears, I called my brother-in-law and asked him if he could please, please, please go back and find it, ship it to me if he found it, and I’d repay him anything! Talk about a heart-twisting experience.

My wonderful superhero of a BIL left work and raced back to the cemetery, but my Day Runner wasn’t on the bench. He knew that it had been swept up in a policing-up action. Then he spent hours chasing down where my calendar/address book had been shuffled off to. See, periodically soldiers police the cemetery grounds, picking up anything left behind and disposing of it. My BIL had to track down the correct group of policing soldiers and find out if they’d seen it. Thank goodness, he finally managed to locate it before it reached the incinerator (yikes!) and return it to me. I sent him a restaurant gift card as a thank you, too.

But for nearly a week I didn’t have my schedule nor the contact information to reach those clients I had appointments with. My reputation and credibility were on the line. It was a difficult and terrifying week, let me tell you.

But I still have that little book, and often think of all that my BIL had to go through to return it to me. And of course, I have some great stories to tell as a result of my research endeavors. Who ever said research was boring just did not do it “right.”

How about you – have you had any adventures while researching a question or perhaps doing genealogy research (another love of mine), or while traveling, that gave you a heart-twisting moment or two? Want to share it?

Between the Lines: The Old Exchange – fun facts from my #research

Today I’m kicking off a new series of short posts to share some of the discoveries I’ve come across while researching for my stories. I’ll talk about tidbits of interest behind the stories in Hometown Heroines, in the A More Perfect Union series of historical romances, and fascinating factoids from upcoming historical fiction releases as well. It’s the little-known facts that I find the most interesting, and I want to share those with you.

Today, I’m going to talk about the Old Exchange in Charleston, South Carolina. This building has served an important role in the development of the once prosperous port city. I’m not saying the city is not prosperous today, but in the 17th and 18th centuries, Charles Town was a thriving port city because of its location and association with Boston and Barbados. The Exchange was the place where products arriving and departing for trade with other ports of call were “exchanged” and distributed to merchants for sale.

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My hubby and I have been to the Old Exchange while I was researching Charleston’s history for the four books in my A More Perfect Union series. It’s featured in the first book, Emily’s Vow, more than in any other in the series. I had several specific questions I needed to answer, so we toured the building with a guide who happened to be a retired school teacher.

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This man was a wealth of information, too! He told me all about the uses of the building, but most importantly he was able to tell me what the building looked like in the late 18th century. Which was very different from how it looks today. In the picture of the Exchange, you can see the two floors of the building, with a basement foundation just visible. While this is a circa 19th c. photo from the Library of Congress, it shows approximately how the building appears now. But back in the 18th c. it was much different.

The top floor has always had glass windows and was used for community meetings and celebrations/dances. The middle or main floor, however, used to be an open air marketplace of sorts. No glass windows or even walls, but an open area where people could come and go. Merchants set up temporary desks on the floor of the Exchange to conduct their business. Access to the basement—where merchandise was stored during peace time or prisoners were held during British occupation—was through an outside door, not from the interior as it is today.

Knowing those facts informed the description and usage of the Old Exchange in my stories, helping me keep my stories as accurate as possible. I do try to keep to the historical facts as much as possible. Am I perfect? Probably not. But I do my best to bring the context of the times to my stories.

It’s not surprising that homes are modified and built onto. We still do that today. In fact, the house I live in, we added on to the kitchen to enlarge it. Have you ever lived in an historic home? Or renovated your own house to suit your particular needs?

Betty

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