Last week was extra busy because of Christmas. We didn’t go anywhere, of course, because of the pandemic. There was a lot of baking and some last-minute decorating, though. I still fit in a fair amount of reading amidst the chaos. I also learned a new fact about J, courtesy of a nearly 101-year-old source. Yay!
RESEARCH NOTES: WEEK 12
VICTORY: I feel as if this is something I frequently mention, but continuing my research, every day, no matter how busy I am is definitely a victory.
HAPPY DISCOVERY: A small newspaper blurb from January 1920, when J was 19, describes her as a “uke-banjoist.” This is the first indication I’ve had that she was also a musician. Another course of research to follow up on in the future.
FRUSTRATION: Sometimes I feel as if three-plus years is not enough time to research the life and career of J.
CURRENTLY READING: A Guide to Historic Downtown Memphis by William Patton
Anyone who has ever researched their family history knows that there are always branches missing from the tree. Looking into J’s husband’s past, I quickly found his first wife…or so I thought. They married in 1916. Easy peasy, right? After all, only two wives were listed on Archives.com AND Ancestry.com, J being the second. Weeks later, whilst reading a 1910 issue of Lyceumite & Talent (which is practically a pastime unto itself), I found mention of R’s wife. She was listed only as Mrs. R. Thanks a lot, early twentieth-century norms. Six full years before his marriage to supposed wife #1. Suddenly, wife #1 was wife #2, and J was moved to third position. Confusing, eh?
Who was the mystery first wife? I finally solved the puzzle last week. As I knew from that trade publication article, she was a performer. All of R’s wives, as it turns out, were actress-singers. He had a type: women of accomplishment and talent. I like that about him.
Wife #1 now has a name (and a stage name, too). Another long research road to walk down. Why is this important? As I’ve said before, J’s career was intertwined with that of her much-older husband. His performing and producing life pre-dated his relationship with her by 20 years. He worked with his first two wives, just as he did with J. I cannot talk about her professional endeavors without covering how they converged with those of R and his previous wives. Is it a mess or a blessing? Only time, and more research, will tell.
RESEARCH NOTES: WEEK 11
VICTORY: I finished another book in my research process, even though the holidays are upon us.
HAPPY DISCOVERY: R’s first wife’s identity, of course!
FRUSTRATION: I’m still mending from my accident.
CURRENTLY READING: Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition by Daniel Okrent
This was an off week. Last Tuesday, I had an accident at my day job (not my fault, for what that’s worth). Complicated research was not exactly at the top of my mind, but I managed to do a considerable amount of relevant reading. My new website, Alternative Muses, which is dedicated to J, also went live. If you haven’t checked it out since then or at all, I’ve fleshed it out a lot.
RESEARCH NOTES: WEEK 10
VICTORY: Not getting a concussion AND still being able to read for hours on end whilst stuck in bed.
HAPPY DISCOVERY: I lost out on a great e-book deal last week because I forgot to order it in time. I snapped it up a few days ago for 50% off the other already-fantastic price.
FRUSTRATION: Not being able to move enough to go upstairs to my studio.
CURRENTLY READING: Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression by Studs Terkel. Almost finished. I also started a couple of new books. I’ll cover those in upcoming issues.
Alternative Muses has been an occasional series on A Small Press Life for years. The name and the concept also fit my bio subject, J, so well that I decided to combine them into a new website. This comes with a couple of bonuses. 1) All things J will be found in one handy location 2) ASPL won’t be entirely overrun with the details of this huge project.
[R]evolving Research, however, will remain a Tuesday “tradition” here on ASPL. If that’s enough J for you, great! You’re all set. If you’d like more, then you can follow my research and biography writing adventures over on AM.
One of the first things I did at the start of my research was set up Google alerts for J and her husband R, on the off-chance that it would eventually pay off in some murky way. Since then I’ve received three relevant alerts and one false alarm. They’ve been great in helping me track professional engagements. When you are dealing with people constantly on the move, every filled-in date is helpful.
RESEARCH NOTES WEEK 9:
VICTORY: A book I had on hold suddenly became available AND the timing was perfect.
HAPPY DISCOVERY: The 100th anniversary of a small-town review of one of R’s productions, allowing me to place him in Michigan on 8 December 1920!
FRUSTRATION: Adding 30 books to my TBR list for every one I finish.
CURRENTLY READING: Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression by Studs Terkel.
HOURS SPENT ON RESEARCH: 12
I’m reading an e-copy but here’s a nice edition available on Etsy:
This week brought our first real snow of the season, more reading (lots of it), and a new tidbit about J’s husband that should open the floodgates to a considerable amount of fresh information. All in all, it’s been a relaxing and productive period.
RESEARCH NOTES WEEK 8:
VICTORY: Reading at a pace that actually satisfies me.
HAPPY DISCOVERY: I discovered not one, but two “new” musical groups that J’s husband, R, produced. Both pretty prominent in their day.
FRUSTRATION: Directly contradicting point one: not being able to read 24/7.
CURRENTLY READING: Babbits & Bohemians: The American 1920s by Elizabeth Stevenson (see here).
Some weeks involve direct research about J or her family; other weeks are devoted to general history reading. I’m currently in a flurry of the latter activity. I learn a lot during these times, just not about J. It’s all necessary and enjoyable work. Time well spent.
After I’ve finished my current book (see below) the pendulum will likely swing back the other way. I love history, but I might just love J even more. That is saying something.
RESEARCH NOTES WEEK 7:
VICTORY: Waking up every day and doing the thing regardless of what the days threw at me.
HAPPY DISCOVERY: None. I’m okay with that because I learned tremendous amounts of historical information.
FRUSTRATION: Also none. That’s a win.
CURRENTLY READING: A Square Meal: A Culinary History of the Great Depression by Jane Ziegelman and Andrew Coe
Researching J also means researching her husband, R, and his career. Being twenty-one years older, his advent as an entertainer and theatrical manager nearly coincided with his future wife’s birth. Later, their showbiz careers were inextricably connected for the two decades preceding his death.
Going down all of these necessary by-roads and highways is one of the reasons I expect my research to take around five years.
RESEARCH NOTES WEEK 6:
VICTORY: Once again carving out “enough” time for my research.
HAPPY DISCOVERY: A three-page spread about R and his various theatrical and musical companies, in a 1910 issue of Lyceumite & Talent.
FRUSTRATION: Not being able to read all the things all at once.