Researching Names for Writers of Historical Fiction

I read a lot of 19th century newspapers for all kinds of reasons, but this clip from the NYT (November 1885) is a great example of one of the ways I find names.

NYT November 1885
NYT November 1885

Here we have Giuseppe Giudici who shot and killed Maggiorini Dagahiero, as well as Ling Chun, Ling Yum, Chun Fong and Lung Mow who are all involved in a perjury case.

central reporter title page
Click for full size. Central Reporter. 1886 on cases heard in September 1885.

A word of warning: even the NYT was really bad at getting the names of immigrants right. Maggiorini Dagahiero strikes me as off, anyway, so I see if I can turn up either half of it elsewhere and find that even mighty Google produces  not a single example of the name Dagahiero beyond the one in this very newspaper article. However, Daghiero does come up — in fact, if you search it will bring up a whole story that is in itself interesting.

Death penalty cases were appealed, I assume, automatically, as they are today. This publication provides both details of the crime and the legal ruling. Because the book is long out of copyright, you can download the whole pdf through Google Books or archive.org (my preference). I can almost guarantee that if you sit down to skim through a volume like this, you will find many stories waiting to be told, the majority of them tragic in one way or another. Some of them bordering on the farcical. 

In this case the details just raise more questions, for me at least. 

I haven’t yet looked into Ling Chun and Ling Yum, but I can predict, based on past experience, that it will be next to impossible to get any details. First, because the crime was minor and didn’t involve bloodshed (newspapers then, as now, subscribed to the ‘if it bleeds it leads’ rule) but also because Asian names were so regularly and extremely mangled.

In case you’d like to know more about the murderous baker (the details of the legal appeal are missing):

Appeal to Death Penalty Case
This is a large graphic. Click to open it on another tab, and be patient.

 

a note about writing prompts

A handful of you are taking part in the writing prompts, and may I say: wow. Some really interesting turns, unexpected characterizations, and hints of larger behind-the-scenes conflicts.

After a lot of thought I have come to the conclusion that I can’t respond to each person’s contribution. I will make an occasional exception and pull out a comment to talk about in a new post, but mostly this is just an exercise to limber up your storytelling mind. If you would like to comment on each other’s work, that’s something else entirely. My sense is that constructive feedback would be welcome. Please tell me if I’m wrong.

This may or may not take off. If it does, I want to be sure that the tone is supportive. In the case that things don’t stay that way, I may make it necessary to register before contributing or commenting. But that’s all in the (hazy) future. In the meantime, I really enjoy reading your paragraphs on the photos I dig up.

 

short stories read aloud at NPR Chicago

I ran across something at the Chicago Public Radio website that really made me happy. They have a program called Stories on Stage — actors reading short stories. Some of my all time favorites are there, including Toni Cade Bambara’s “My Man Bovanne” read by Cheryl Lynn Bruce (toward the bottom of the page). If you happen to have a copy of the story, read along with the performance. There are other favorites of mine, as well, including Charlie Baxter’s “Gryphon.” A few I would love to hear aren’t available, for some unknown reason.

To listen to audio on their site, you need to have RealPlayer 8 or later. You can download the current version for free.