“The difference between doing something and not doing something is doing something.”-James Corden, May I Have Your Attention, Please?
As some of you know, I am in the early (and I do mean early) stages of researching material for a biography. The best-case scenario has me completing said research in about three years. Say, the end of 2023. It is the biggest, grandest, scariest, and most exhilarating project I’ve ever contemplated. A few weeks in, and I am having a helluva good time. Let me explain.
Since learning to read–way back when at age three–I’ve adored reference materials and all related paraphernalia. Dictionaries, almanacs, encyclopedias. Dates, facts, figures. All marvelous. Sigh. Good thing, that. Why?
Because I could not imagine trying to tackle the life of an obscure musical theater performer (whose career started 100 years ago) without this weird native penchant for unearthing mundane or evasive details. This project is hard, y’all. Daunting. Elephantine.
And all the more rewarding when I discover a tiny puzzle piece, such as her purebred dog’s birth date and parentage, 98 years after the fact. He was an Airedale, in case you were wondering. Black and tan. I imagine he looked like this:
Not really her doggo. This is a 21st-century good boy. Public Domain.
Maybe I will eventually find a photo of her actual good boy. I’m already in possession of some of her archives (an origin story for another post). Anything is possible in the world of biography, right?
Speaking of those puzzle pieces, dozens are already in place. Those mostly belong to the outer edge. Inside? One here, a couple there. Largely unconnected but waiting to be joined to the rest. An exciting concept. Can’t wait. Only approximately 9,957 pieces to fit in place. Or more. Who knows? I certainly don’t.
I spent the first couple of weeks poring over dry historical records: census, birth, death, marriage. Obituaries, burial info. All helpful in forging connections, resulting in several spontaneous aha moments! I know I’ve not seen the back end of those. Not yet. Not for a while. Weeks? Months? Years? Who knows? I certainly don’t.
Going forward? Archives are about to be this girl’s best friend. My subject, J, performed in 45 states, lived in a couple. Traveled for pleasure. There’s so much to learn.
I plan on sharing a tightly curated version of my research journey here. What does that mean? A weekly post will go up every Tuesday, with the periodic stand-alone piece appearing as needed. Should be fun.
RESEARCH NOTES WEEKS 1-3:
- VICTORIES: I plotted out her family tree and know (almost) everyone’s vital statistics.
- HAPPY DISCOVERIES: J’s dog’s pedigree; her son’s college yearbook; a ship’s manifest from 1931; a newspaper blurb from 1930 about her recovery from a “serious” surgery.
- FRUSTRATIONS: Her children are largely enigmas.
- CURRENTLY READING: The Lyceumite & Talent issues from 1910.
“I get intrigued by a puzzle, and writing a book is the best way to solve it.”–Anthony Storr
Until next time!