I had dental work done recently which required the use of local anesthesia. The procedure took about forty-five minutes, and I could tell by the amount of vigor used by the dentist that without the numbing effects of the drug, I would have been uncomfortable or possibly even in pain. As I lay in the chair, I got to wondering what dentistry was like in the past, specifically the mid-1800s, because that’s the kind of crazy writerly brain I have. As a result, shortly after getting home, I fired up my computer and dug around to learn about the dental industry of 150 years ago. Let’s just say I’m glad I’m living in the modern era!
I conduct my research in a variety of ways from reading autobiographies and watching oral history interviews to talking with subject matter experts. These folks, who are at the top of their fields, answered copious questions such as:
- What would a physician have carried in her traveling “doctor’s bag” in the 1940s? What medicines were available to treat wounds?
- What do you do for someone who is choking? (Spoiler alert: Not pound them on the back.)
- What tasks are require to run a ranch and/or farm in the mid-west? What sort of disasters can occur? What farm machinery was available in the mid-1800s?
- When did indoor plumbing arrive in small towns across America?
- How did one become a midwife in the 1930s and 1940s? What sort of licensing, if any was involved?
- When did the police begin to use fingerprints to solve cases? What is the best way to hide a body?
- How close can a person be to a bomb and not get killed?
- What’s it like to fly a plane? Can someone land a plane who has never piloted a plane?
- How did the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) train their spies during WWII?
I also try to have hands-on experience in order to accurately portray scenes in my stories, and a few of the things I did in the name of research are:
- Trained with a retired Army captain to learn how to fire several different kinds of weapons
- Spent time in a lighthouse learning how do to the keeper’s tasks
- Ridden in an antique passenger train and in a horse-drawn wagon
- Went through training exercises from the Special Operations Executive’s manual (Britain’s OSS)
- Learned Morse code and used a telegraph key (that I got for my birthday!)
The more research I do, the greater appreciation I have for our ancestors who did the best they could with what they had. My research also makes me realize how easy I have it these days with all the modern conveniences and technologies available.
Which of these topics do you find most intriguing?
About the Author:
Linda Shenton Matchett writes about ordinary people who did extraordinary things in days gone by. A volunteer docent and archivist for the Wright Museum of WWII, Linda is working with the curator to create her first exhibit that will be displayed next season. She is a native of Baltimore, Maryland and was born a stone’s throw from Fort McHenry. Linda has lived in historic places all her life and is now located in central New Hampshire where her favorite activities include exploring historic sites and immersing herself in the imaginary worlds created by other authors.
Legacy of Love (Keepers of the Light)
by Linda Shenton Matchett
Will their love come at a cost?
Escaping Boston to avoid a marriage of convenience aimed at garnering society’s respect for her family name in the shadow of her father’s war profiteering, Meg Underwood settles in Spruce Hill, Oregon. Despite leaving behind the comforts of wealth, she’s happy. Then the handsome Pinkerton agent, Reuben Jessop, arrives with news that she’s inherited her aunt’s significant estate, and she must return home to claim the bequest. Meg refuses to make the trip. Unwilling to fail at his mission, Reuben gives her until Christmas to prove why she should remain in Spruce Hill and give up the opportunity to become a woman of means. When he seems to want more than friendship, she wonders if her new-found wealth is the basis of his attraction.