Hearts Through History Romance Writers

Researching your characters

by | October 24, 2009 | 8 comments

I prefer researching and writing about the U.S. in the 1800’s. Specifically the western U.S. However, I find myself time and again having to research farther back and overseas to fully develop my characters.

A character’s roots tells a lot about that character and I find that by going back on the family tree I can develop my characters and make them more real. My problem is even though I’m researching for my book set in the west in the 1800’s I have to delve into 1700’s Europe sometimes.

I remember my Social Studies classes and learning all about the “boiling pot” that makes up America. I know the only true American is the Native America who has been on this continent the longest though I’ve also read they came from another continent as well, long, long ago. My heritage is a “Heinz 57”. My mother’s side being predominately German and my Dad’s side Dutch, Irish, English. So even to find my ancestral background I have to travel abroad.

Which brings me to- I have a book case full of western reference books and few on European history and find myself either going online or traipsing to the library to find the research materials need when I work to “discover” family history on a character. Anyone wanting to comment and leave me some good reference books I’d appreciate it.

For my latest release, Miner in Petticoats, the heroine took some research. I wanted her Scots, but while researching for her background I found that many of the Scots at the time she would have been a girl were exiled to Ireland due to clan wars. So I put her in Ireland and she married an Irish man who was killed during the uprisings between the Irish and the English.

While none of the story takes place in Ireland, I still had to research the living conditions and the upheaval going on there to be able to give my character back story that made her who she is in this book.

Shouldering the burdens of his family and the mining community, Ethan Halsey devotes himself to providing for his brothers’ growing families.

However, Aileen Miller, a widow, also looking out for her family’s interests, refuses to part with the land he needs. As they battle- one to push his dream to reality and the other to prove no man will hurt her again- their lives become enmeshed and their hearts collide.

How far have you gone to build your character in your mind as well as your reader’s?



  1. librarypat

    I'm not a writer, but find history interesting. Often I'll think of a situation or read something and end up researching it to find out more or check the accuracy.
    It is nice to see authors taking the time to make sure their stories are accurate, even in the minor details.

  2. Le Loup

    In living history one has to bear in mind that not everything one wears or uses necassarily comes from the period you are emulating.
    For instance, say it is now 1740 in the New World and I am 60 years of age. that means that I was born in 1680. I left England when I was 20 years of age in 1700. By this stage I have pretty much settled on my likes and dislikes in regards to clothing and equipment.
    When I arrive in the New World I am carrying items from the 17th century. These could be items given to me by family members upon leaving, but some items such as my knife I have had since my teenage years.
    In 1740 I am wearing French fly breaches and a long weskit. In another ten years time I will probably still be wearing the same fashion. There is a good pic that illustrates this point showing Voltaire & Lekain wearing different period clothing.

    The same would apply in a later period.

  3. BookJunkee00

    Hi, I'm not a writer and when I read something In a book that I find interesting and have no Idea what it is or means I look it up, I read a lot of Westerns so I sometimes check if the place is real or not some have been some haven't. I also enjoy when a book includes a Historic Event and how it is worked into the story.

  4. Kathryn Albright

    Hi Paty,
    I have one research book that you might like to consider for your bookshelf. It's Dressed for the Photographer by Joan Severa. It has photos of what people wore from 1840-1900 throughout America. The reason I like it is because it is photos of the working class–not just the elite who could afford fancier clothes. I've always liked the Gibson Girl look, but really, how many people actually wore those type of clothes?

    Doing the research is what gives me all kinds of story ideas. Thanks for sharing some of yours…

  5. Paty Jager

    Library Pat, Thanks for stopping by. I believe in making sure I have my history correct. That's part of giving the reader something entertaining and educational at the same time.

    Le Loup, I agree you have to know the person's background to know how to present them in the time the book is set.

    BookJUnkee00, I like to use ghosts towns and real towns in my westerns. So I travel tot he areas and do as much research as I can.

    Thanks Mary, I'll get a hold of this book.

  6. Obe

    Always such great information when you come to this blogspot. Thanks I love reading your comments.

  7. mmccall0911

    Wonderful topic, Paty! I have gone a long way back on my current wip. My 12th century heroine and hero can be traced by to ancient Sparta. That's the farthest I've ever gone back in developing characters and making them click.

  8. Paty Jager

    Thanks Obe, we strive to make this interesting and valuable.

    Hi M. McCall, Ancestry builds character.



Share This