Research: The Last Leg(s) of the Process

When I started my book project, the concept of research seemed counter-intuitive to me.  Why would I have to research my own story?  Didn’t I know my own story well enough to write it?

In short order, my pesky assumption unraveled.   Even though I know my own perspective, I wanted to interview relatives, find medical records, seek out old letters and documents and as the proverbial “last leg” of the research, investigate newspapers from back in the day to see if any empirical evidence of my accident on the stove existed.  That is, was there even a fire call listed in the paper that day? 

The need to fill in the lines brought me to micro film and an intra-library loan (https://annegallagher8.wordpress.com/2011/07/03/intra-library-loan-time/).  When I arrived at the Harold Washington Library and headed up to the intra-library loan department, I received eight small cardboard boxes, each held tight with a rubber band and each containing a month of the Green Bay Press-Gazette from 1964.  Microfilm readers are cumbersome boxes reminiscent of ancient technology.  For many years however they were the best way to preserve newspapers, rare books and other culturally irreplaceable material.

I hadn’t used a microfilm reader since high school and asked for help from the reading room librarian.  Pulling the roll of film out of the box, she showed me how to load it on to the reader like you would an old reel-to-reel movie on a projector.  Once the film loaded, she showed me the various controls to move from page to page and to size the film on the screen. 

As I hand-scrolled through the newspapers, I got lost in the details of the day.  High taxes were an issue.  St. Joseph Academy and Premontre were hosting a joint Catholic college night.  November weather was partly cloudy with a low near 28 and a high projected at 50 degrees.  The Green Bay Packers were playing the Dallas Cowboys on an upcoming Sunday (they won 45-21) and the comic pages contained Marmaduke, Ponytail, Kerry Drake, Beetle Bailey and Blondie.  President Kennedy had died the year before.  Johnson was President.

There was not a single fire call or news item that mentioned me or my accident.  I put the last roll of microfilm back its box and returned it to the desk. 

By now, I’d interviewed a number of relatives, received as many medical records as probably existed, found old letters and my baby book with my mother’s hand-inscribed account of the accident (https://annegallagher8.wordpress.com/2010/11/24/happy-burn-iversary/). That seemed enough to complete my research even if there was no record in the local newspaper.  Or was there? 

Since the stories said that I was variously 2 or 3 when the accident happened, maybe I searched the wrong year for the newspaper. 

I returned to the reference desk and ordered the Green Bay Press-Gazette on micro film for 1965 and 1966.  If this is the last leg of my research phase, I’ll need to be thorough.

Intra-Library Loan Time

9th level of the Harold Washington Library (Ch...

Image via Wikipedia

Most of my research for Anne on Fire is now complete.  I’ve spoken with willing relatives and friends who knew details from my burn accident years ago or who knew my parents at the time.  I’ve requested as many medical records as possible, learning that there are some that simply are gone.  I’ve contacted doctors who worked on my case.  All in all, it’s been a fabulous and enlightening process where I’ve tried to cover the proverbial waterfront of information for clues and insight.  I was going over my findings with my friend Gloria when she said, “Gallagher, have you looked in the newspapers from that time to see if anything was published?  You know, a fire call, a news item.”

I hadn’t.  It was a great idea and prompted my call to the Brown County library (pictured here as is the interior of the Harold Washington Library), where of course they have old editions of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.  In our techno-driven age, most newspapers before the mid-1990s are not searchable online but preserved on micro-film.  Another call to the Harold Washington Library to request an intra-library loan…..and a stash of micro-film is on its way to Chicago.

My gut tells me there will be nothing useful for me in these newspapers.  At the same time, I can’t wait to wade through them on the micro-film machine.  You never know what you might find unless you look.  The process also brings about a sweet sense of closure to my search for information.  It motivates me to get back to the business of writing up the story.