No matter what century or what locale we’re writing about, every historical fiction author strives to show exactly what “life was like back then”.
Getting those details right—whether it’s how people bathed during Tudor times, which book (other than the Bible) was on most 1850’s American and English bookshelves (Uncle Tom’s Cabin), or how to create liquid stockings during WWII—authors continue to research, research, and research that little thing known as “every day life.”
Even though we all have our favorite “everyday resources” (mine is newspapers.com), most authors can always use more. And so, here are a few online primary and secondary resources—some of which have appeared in previous Link Lists—to help historical fiction writers provide those exacting every day details.
HINT: Some of the sources span multiple categories, so for the most info, check more categories.
- Abigail Adams’ Correspondence to John Adams
- Alexander Hamilton’s Wartime Correspondence to George Washington
- George Washington Papers – The papers of army officer and first U.S. president George Washington (1732-1799) held in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress constitute the largest collection of original Washington papers in the world.
- John Adams’ Correspondence to Abigail Adams
19th century England:
- Everyday Life in Regency and Victorian England – Provides period information on home furnishings, fashion, medicine, the courts, entertainment, shopping, travel, and etiquette. (Recommended by Mari Christie.)
- Health and hygiene in the 19th century
- Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management
- Sound effects – From Victorian street scenes to the sounds of World War Two, this collection showcases a range of sound effects from the British Library
- The Victorian middle classes
19th century America:
- The 1896 Boston Cooking-School Cook Book – An incredible offering of 1,380 recipes, from boiling an egg to preparing a calf’s head…instructions also go beyond recipes to include how to set the table for proper tea, full menu ideas for holiday dinners, housekeeping tips, and so much more.
- 19th Century Song Book Collection – American songbooks published in the nineteenth century.
- Everyday Life in the 1800s – Illuminates everyday life in 1800s Americaå, decade by decade.
- Everyday Life in the Wild West – From the vittles people ate (including boudins and buffalo humps) to what they wore (such as linsey-woolsey, caliso and duck), this book is packed with historical accounts, maps and photographs.
- Harrison D. Horblit Collection of Early Photography – Documents the history and science of photography from the 1830s to roughly 1900.
- Ludwig & Svenson Studio – A family owned photography studio in Laramie, Wyoming during the twentieth century. The collection contains negatives, interpositives, and prints.
- Mormonism and the West – Reproductions of original letters, diaries, journals, reminiscences and other records of descendants of pioneering Mormon families.
- New York City Directories – Names and addresses of city residents, businesses, churches, schools, police stations, courts, and other government offices. ALSO: maps, illustrations of buildings, and advertisements.
- Stereographs of the West, ca. 1858-1906
- World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 from the Field Museum – Official records, objects and photographs, as well as personal memorabilia from the Fair.
America during the Civil War:
- Civil War Era Diaries – Diaries by Northern soldiers, offering insight into the lives of regular soldiers.
- Civil War Surgeon’s Letters and Diaries – From the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.
- Emilie Davis Diaries – The diary of a free African American Woman living in Philadelphia during the Civil War era.
- John Freeman Shorter’s Diary – Written from January 1–September 30, 1865, this diary details Shorter’s experiences as an African American soldier and officer during the final days of the Civil War.
- Lincolniana – Materials related to United States President Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865).
- Mary Chesnut’s Civil War – An annotated collection of the diaries of Mary Boykin Chesnut, an upper-class planter who lived in South Carolina during the American Civil War. Edited by C. Vann Woodward, and winner of the 1982 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
- Robert B. McKee papers – Correspondence, military orders, medical supply inventories, casualty reports, and other material related to service as a surgeon in the 1st Delaware Calvary regiment during the Civil War.
19th Century Paris:
- An American lady in Paris, 1828-1829; the diary of Mrs. John Mayo
- John House Stereograph Collection – Nearly 2,000 views of nineteenth-century Paris.
19th Century Canada:
- Royal Fisk Gold Rush Letters – A valuable source of information on trade and commerce as it developed in Victoria during the height and decline of the Cariboo Gold Rush.
19th century Latin America:
- Early Images of Latin America – Over 1,800 images documenting people, places, landscapes, urban and rural scenes in various countries of the region from the mid-19th century to c. 1910.
Turn-of-the-Century and 20th Century America:
- 1908 Sears, Roebuck & Co. Catalogue – With merchandise ranging from ordinary to fantastical (and almost all of it priced at the pennies-on-the-dollar rate of the time).
- Colorado Directories – Consists primarily of directories from Leadville, Colorado Springs, and Denver.
- First-person Narratives of the American South – Documents the American South from the viewpoint of Southerners. Focuses on the diaries, autobiographies, memoirs, travel accounts, and ex-slave narratives of relatively inaccessible populations: women, African Americans, enlisted men, laborers, and Native Americans. Narratives describe Southern life between 1860 and 1920, a period of enormous change.
- Harry Bowman Black Vaudeville Collection
- What’s on the menu? – With approximately 45,000 menus dating from the 1840s to the present, The New York Public Library’s restaurant menu collection is one of the largest in the world, used by historians, chefs, novelists and everyday food enthusiasts.
- Panama-Pacific International Exposition (San Francisco) Photographs
- Sears, Roebuck Home Builder’s Catalog: The Complete Illustrated 1910 Edition – offers a peerless view of how thousands of Americans approached the practicalities and aesthetics of homebuilding.
- Settlement Houses in the Progressive Era – Between the 1880s and 1920s, hundreds of settlement houses were established in American cities in response to an influx of European immigrants as well as the urban poverty brought about by industrialization and exploitative labor practices.
- Suffrage collection – Comprises ephemera, pamphlets, books, and realia that relate to the campaign for women’s voting rights.
20th Century China:
- Roy Maxwell Talbot Collection – Photographs, artifacts, and documents from the private collection of Roy Maxwell Talbot related to his long and eventful career in China as a Chinese Maritime Customs Service official (1908-1942).
- 103rd Aero Squadron, Lafayette Escadrille, Flight Log 1918 – This is the U.S. Army Air Service 103rd Aero Squadron operational log that was recorded in France during World War I.
- French war posters from the First World War
- World War I images in France
- World War I Sheet Music – The Driscoll Collection of American Sheet Music…is one of the largest and most representative collections of its kind.
- The 1942 Sears Christmas Book – Shoppers could purchase toys as well as housewares, clothes, furniture, candy, and gifts to send to servicemen….The wartime catalog even includes information about the importance of saving scrap metal for munitions and encourages readers to buy war bonds.
- The Diary of Anne Frank and the Anne Frank House, Amsterdam.
- Heart Mountain Relocation Center Records – The Heart Mountain Relocation Center was one of ten camps mandated by the War Department in 1942 to detain Americans of Japanese ancestry. Collection contains the Heart Mountain charter, community minutes, notes on resettlement plans, transcripts of a trial, and documents in Japanese.
- Hasterlik-Hine Collection – Documents the life of an upper-middle-class Viennese family in Nazi-occupied Austria that was deemed Jewish under the Nuremberg laws…. [and] consists of roughly 530 handwritten and typed letters, post cards and greeting cards between Giulia Kortischoner and her family and friends during the years 1938 to 1942 and 1944 to 1948.
- Japanese Canadian Photograph Collection – Following the declaration of war on Japan, Japanese nationals and Canadian citizens of Japanese descent were forcibly removed from what was considered to be strategic, restricted coastal areas of British Columbia in 1942. Evacuees were first dispatched to temporary facilities at Vancouver’s Hastings Park and then from there relocated to areas in the B.C. interior and beyond.
- Pictures of African Americans During World War II
- Rosie the Riveter World War II American Home Front Oral Histories
Ana Brazil writes historical crime fiction celebrating bodacious American heroines. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, the Historical Novel Society, and a founding member of Paper Lantern Writers.
Ana’s latest historical mystery is THE RED-HOT BLUES CHANTEUSE, which features murder, mayhem, and music in 1919 San Francisco. Her award-winning historical mystery FANNY NEWCOMB & THE IRISH CHANNEL RIPPER is set in Gilded Age New Orleans.