Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Researching 19th Century: A Primary Source--Dr. Chase

Where do you look for primary source information to research your historical works of fiction?

A primary source is considered an actual document from someone who lived in the time period you are researching. Most genealogical research centers in your local library will have compiled histories obtained from primary sources for that locale. Other examples include the family Bible, the U.S. Federal Census, personal letters, wills, and probate records, which are court documents for things like guardianships.

used w/ permission:

I love to research family history and have had a lot of practice doing it since I was thirteen years old. But how do you find out about the more tedious details of daily living to help flesh out your understanding of historical time periods? How do you find more accurate details to help make your historical fiction more interesting and reflective of the time?

used w/ permission:

I stumbled upon a fantastic primary resource in an antique mall last spring. I'd read about pioneer homes of the 19th century having a volume of works for the purpose of having access to common medical treatments of the time. Much of frontier and rural America did not have ready access to a local physician, so this volume was heavily used by families and written in an easily understandable manner for common folk. I'd dreamed of finding one of these. I'd combed the internet but didn't know a title or author's name to use for the search. Last March while on a retreat with our Sunday School class in Shipshewana, Indiana, I stumbled on a copy of Dr. Chase's Last Complete Work.  Aha! I'd found it! Tingling with excitement, I purchased my $35 copy copyrighted in 1903. It is a 3rd edition, a Memorial Edition compiling all the former works he'd ever published which date back to pre-Civil War.

This book contains everything! The contents page lists not only medical helps but also food for the sick, cooking recipes, and other information for the "departments" of toilet, dairy, domestic animals, agriculture, mechanical, and bee-keeping. It was basically the internet of the 19th century--it was the place you looked to find an answer to your questions. Eureka!

Now if you think that publishing is changing now, just think, this article states that Dr. Chase's publications were second in sales only to the Bible in 1864. The building pictured above is the publishing house in Ann Arbor, MI, that Dr. Chase built to publish his own works. Here is a link to an interesting article.

Though his original work was only a 16 page pamphlet, the Memorial edition I purchased is 865 pages long including a wonderful index.  I've posted the link on the right hand side of my blog of an online access to read this book for your works of historical fiction and general interest. Here also, is the link: 

Also, while researching a little more about Dr. Chase, I found the transcript for a nice piece from NPR radio about how the 19th century pharmacist influenced the local soda fountain. Here's the link:

Have fun!


  1. Love those old books and all the gems to be found in them. Found you through Jaime's blog and hope you have a super week!!! :O)

  2. Oh thanks Diane! I love anything historical--a picture into the past is most fascinating.

  3. Anne, Congrats on your find! These are the type things that bring history to life in HUGE ways and pepper our novels with realism and keep readers riveted. So often we have to "guess" at what life was like. These sources give us an inside view like no other. Enjoy your treasure:)