American Memory – A great place for research
If you’re writing fiction or nonfiction that touches on the past, this site has multiple sections filled with photographs, original documents, advertising, oral histories, and literature that will often facilitate your understanding of an era.
American Memory provides free and open access through the Internet to written and spoken words, sound recordings, still and moving images, prints, maps, and sheet music that document the American experience. It is a digital record of American history and creativity. These materials, from the collections of the Library of Congress and other institutions, chronicle historical events, people, places, and ideas that continue to shape America, serving the public as a resource for education and lifelong learning.
When I was in high school, I would often get distracted when looking things up in dictionaries, encyclopedias and other reference books by entries that I had nothing to do with the term paper had been assigned to write. The same thing happens to me now when I search for things on American Memory. I may not always find the exact thing I want, but if I’m not careful, I can easily spend an afternoon reading other stuff. When I was working on the rail car project, I was interested in railroading music.
Be careful: if you start looking at the wild and crazy covers of old sheet music, you can be trapped just as surely as if you’d stepped in a faerie ring.
Hoyt’s cologne is an old style toilet water that used to be very popular. Oddly, you can still buy it now, though its aroma probably isn’t going to work well in most circles. I searched on American Memory for it because I was working on a novella about a conjure woman and discovered that a lot of people thought the cologne brought them good luck.
I’m a big fan of old advertising. I love the fact that, by today’s standards and sensibilities, ads like the one shown here seem pretty much over the top. Needless to say, this and other references to Hoyt’s Cologne on American Memory–as well as other sites–gave me enough information to mention the cologne in my story.
Sometimes you’ll need to be creative with your searches because, for reasons I don’t know, things that I know are out there don’t always show up when I enter the most logical search words. So, be creative if you don’t find what you’re looking for there on your first trip. Those who manage the site are very helpful, especially when you need copies and re-print permissions or even if you find a photo of a place you know well that has the wrong label on it.
Yes, Wikipedia is tempting and a lot of museums, historical societies, libraries and state and local agencies are putting more facts and photographs on line these days. The writer’s researching job is becoming easier, but nothing beats original sources whether they’re experts, project managers or the documents and pictures you can find in the Library of Congress’ collection.