Confessions of a Beginning Researcher

I’m a beginner in this world of serious research with so much yet to learn. I also need to develop a little willpower along the way, curbing my natural curiosity to stray off the path when something catches my eye.

I spent a fun hour in the local library yesterday. It started with one small word in the library’s index file – Morgue. The word jumped at me from the Newspaper Index, not what I’d been searching for, but found anyway.

You see, I’m aware the site of the old Municipal Baths was originally occupied by the first city Morgue. This index discovery warranted further investigation.

I tried not looking impatient as I stood behind two people at the librarian’s desk. My turn came. I handed the librarian the name of the newspaper, the date of publication and the page and column I wanted to read – Manawatu Evening Standard, 4 July 1906, page 3, column 3. Then I confessed I had no idea how to access it.

The librarian unlocked the cabinet of antiquated reels of old newspapers on film and helped me load the film and get started. I concentrated on finding the wanted page, ignoring the many fascinating past headlines distracting me. When I found the article the small print challenged my eye sight.

I had three options, print it off at a small cost, e-mail it to myself or bring in a USB stick and copy it for reading at home. I then realised I had a fourth option. 1906 is one of the papers already available on the NZ Papers Past online. I rushed home, impatient to learn more about the community’s outrage at the existence of the Morgue in their residential area. Even worse, it was behind the Opera House, upsetting theatre goers.

From this small entry I found numerous Letters to the Editor complaining about the Morgue. I lost myself in what had been quite a topic of discontent since the Morgue had been established in 1903. The afternoon slipped by unnoticed as a story developed in my head.

Will I be able to use all this information in my next book? Probably not. The Morgue only warrants a small mention, perhaps one or two sentences as background. Was my afternoon spent in reading all I could find useful? Definitely. I now have the background leading up to why the Ashley Street site was chosen for the baths. I also learned how to do newspaper research at the library.

My concern now is staying focussed on the task in hand. How much time should I spend locating information contributing so few words to the final outcome? I still have so much to learn as I go about my research.

I’d love to hear your comments and any tips relating to your own research projects. I’m a real beginner here.

 

Trees Have Stories Too

How aware are you of the trees in your locality? I confess my knowledge is minimal. Trees grow, they exist for either beautification or to serve a specific purpose and some have existed longer than others.

Two things sparked my recent interest in trees. Firstly, faced with a writing challenge about Trees, I decided to look into the place of trees in the early settlement of my city, a city where trees hold a respected place. Then, a second discovery fed my fascination, a recent newspaper article about an arborist locating and recording details about notable trees in the district that need protecting. Some of these trees go a long way back in time.

With my limited knowledge of the history of my local area, I realise trees played an important part in development here from pre-European settlement days.  The original town site was built in a large clearing on an otherwise forested plain. Early literature, settler journals and local history publications describe the beauty of the forest, the trees and the bird song.

Whenever people choose to live in a previously undeveloped area, they need to build homes and create communities. In order to achieve this back in the late 19th century, trees were felled, houses and business premises were built and the town began to grow. The beautiful forest retreated and the townsfolk lived in a newly cleared environment where mud and dust reigned.

A quick search of an online site, Papers Past, provided fascinating reading. I didn’t expect much when I entered the keyword Trees for one of the local papers from the early 1900s. My astonishment at the wealth of information held me captive for more time than I intended as I located further information.

In the early 1900s, if not earlier, the locals demanded more of the developing town and a group of people formed the Beautification Society, a lobby group to encourage the local Council to plant and grow trees to make the town more appealing. From these early settler endeavours, over a century later our city takes pride in trees contributing to the local environment.

Local history started with a beautiful forest, became cleared and burned off land devoid of trees, back to the formation of a society to plant and beautify the surroundings. For my May writing group challenge I intend further researching the story of the Beautification Society of the past and attempt to record some of its story.

Also read the story of a New Zealand Tree and River, before the arrival of people: Kids Illustrate New Zealand Maori Legend