Research for Writers of Historical Fiction #8

One of the things that I like to talk about whenever I’m suggesting places to look for research sources is….ta-da! Social Media.

To be clear. NOT ALL SOCIAL MEDIA. There are, however, a couple of things I’ve found surprisingly useful. So to begin…

Remember that you can use your social media platform to ask for your friends’ and readers’ suggestions.

I did this when stuck on a research problem for Book 3 (The Shores of Spain). I needed to have a book that a young Portuguese-speaking boy might read in 1900.  Unfortunately, I was rather stumped as to writers of action/adventure stories for that time period in Portugal.  So I threw the question out on my Facebook.

I was quite surprised by the number of people who had opinions and suggestions. As it turned out, one of my friends suggested King Solomon’s Mines. I didn’t know if that was available in Portuguese, though. Another friend sent me the link to the Portuguese National Library and when I went there, I discovered that the book was translated into Portuguese (and serialized) around 1890. So for my 1903 setting? Totally acceptable for that to be the book…and thus my social media buddies saved my bacon.

(It actually turned out to be an AMAZING CHOICE, by the way, because it was a truly loaded issue between the Portuguese  and English at the time, so the book was widely read in Portugal despite the author being English.)


But social media can also be searched, and that can turn up all sorts of helpful stuff.*

*Caveat: Search functions are iffy. For example, Facebook has a surprisingly good search function, whereas Tumblr???  NEVER SEARCH TUMBLR, or if you do, have bleach nearby to clean your soul afterwards.


So…my story links back to that desperate search for a department store in Porto in 1902. I knew there had to be one, but I hadn’t been searching under the correct words. This is how I discovered that.  I searched Facebook for Porto 1900.

I was surprised to find that there were Pages dedicated to the history of Porto, including the wonderful Porto Desaparecido (Vanishing Porto).  That Page collects vintage photographs, drawings, and paintings of Porto and has them carefully sorted into albums, most pictures having notations as well. It’s a group labor of love that included this picture below:


Yes, there it is, an advertisement from Herminios Department Store, or Grandes Armazèns Hermnios. I checked, and that store did predate my novel setting. I had finally found the name of the department store…the day after I turned in the manuscript!

(If you notice the address line of the browser, the option to translate the page is there in the right corner, although it won’t translate the words on the photograph.)

But that success led me to check into some of my other settings. Below you see Facebook Pages for Porto Desaparecido, Barcelona Desapareguda, Lisboa Desaparecida, and even a Page for Saratoga Springs, NY.  While the mileage varies on these, they can be helpful.



In addition, I used several other Porto-related pages found by searching Facebook, so I recommend giving that a try. If you’re interested in a setting, the chances are good that someone else is, and has a Facebook Page set up for it.

I would also suggest trying out Pinterest. Now, Pinterest is, for most people, a place for storing pretty pictures, but authors are using it more and more to store their links to various pages, almost like a Browser Bookmark but with pictures. That makes it somewhat easier to search through at times. If I put in “1900 Porto Portugal”, I see photos, some of which might lead me to useful articles.

And while we’re online: a strange place to look that isn’t quite social media? Stock Photo and Video collections can offer you glimpses into your setting.

Flikr and Getty Images will likely have old pictures (and new) of a setting, as well as (and other old picture sites.)

For short videos of a place? Try Pond5 or Shutterstock.

And YouTube has a persnickety search function that will sometimes turn up gems. The best part about this is that a LOT of old film has been put up on YouTube. I’ve found footage c. 1902 for Porto, New York, Barcelona…

So when you’re online researching, look in the usual places…but also keep your eyes open for others.


Next Post (11/29): Let’s Start Buying Stuff!


RRH Confession #9

I actually read King Solomon’s Mines in both English and Portuguese. That turned out to be a bit of a rabbit hole as I discovered discrepancies between the English original and the Portuguese translation. They were small differences, a sentence added here or there, or a couple of details thrown in that didn’t appear in the original…

As it turns out, the colonization of Africa was a hugely political issue in Europe at the time, so the author who did the translation actually did an ‘adaptation’, wherein he stretched the original novel just a little bit. (A lot of historical quibbling over this one.)

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