Writer's Guide to Government Information

Resources to inject real life detail into your fiction

Site Transition: Meet Your New Host

For quite some time now, I (Daniel) know I have not put maintenance or promotional energy into this site that it deserves. Partly that’s because I run this resource in my spare time. My job description has not included government information since 2007 and so I never sought work support for this project. In addition, I have other projects and lifelong learning opportunities going on. The result has been you getting the leftovers of my focus and energy. You writers and readers deserve more.

So several weeks ago, I made the choice of seeking a new owner for the Writer’s Guide to Government Information. Today I’m happy to announce that not only does the Writer’s Guide have a new owner, but one with institutional support!

The new owner is Kari Mofford, Undergraduate and User Services Librarian of the Claire T. Carney Library at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. In addition to having the support of her dean for this project, Kari is also liaison to the English department at her school. This puts her in a great position to do outreach to the writing community.

Although not a government information librarian herself, she has really enjoyed the resources she’s found in the Writer’s guide, and is committed to maintaining the site and sharing her discoveries.

I’m going to be in the background for as long as Kari finds me useful, but this is her site and her show now. In the next few weeks Kari will be posting announcements about the site’s future direction. I imagine she will also be soliciting your input on how the Writer’s Guide can be made even more useful than it is now. I look forward to seeing the direction she takes it in. I hope you will too.


Resource for 19th Century DC social life

It’s been ages since I’ve posted anything here, but the Library of Congress recently digitized a collection that I think writers of stories set in early to mid 19th Century Washington DC would find helpful.

The collection is Anna Maria Brodeau Thornton papers, 1793-1861 and it can be found at https://www.loc.gov/collections/anna-maria-brodeau-thornton-papers/about-this-collection/.

Here’s the description from the “About this collection” page:

The seven volumes of diaries and notebooks, 1793-1861, of Anna Maria Brodeau Thornton (ca.1775-1865) document her position at the center of a Washington, D.C., social circle that included George and Martha Washington, James and Dolley Madison, Thomas Jefferson, Margaret Bayard Smith, and the cabinet members, congressmen, and diplomats who constituted the city’s entwined social and political worlds. Thornton was the daughter of Ann Brodeau, who emigrated from England in 1775 with the help of Benjamin Franklin and established a successful school in Philadelphia. The identity of Anna Maria Thornton’s father is unknown, but he may have been English clergyman William Dodd, who was hanged for forgery in 1777.

In 1790, at just fifteen, Anna Maria Brodeau married William Thornton (1759-1828), an architect who was born in Tortola and initially trained as a doctor. He is best known for his design of the United States Capitol. Thornton was one of the commissioners appointed to plan the capital city, and later in his career he became United States Superintendent of Patents. The Thorntons moved to Washington in 1792 and lived there for the rest of their lives.

Anna Maria Brodeau Thornton’s papers consist of diaries and commonplace books, 1793-1861, which she began when she was eighteen and ended at eighty-six, a period of sixty-eight years. These volumes document the operation of her household, including the management of slaves; travel, including visits to the Virginia homes of George and Martha Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James and Dolley Madison; the construction of Washington, D.C., and the United States Capitol; the city under attack during the War of 1812; visits of the Count de Volney, 1796, and Alexander von Humboldt, 1804; an attempt on her life by Arthur, a slave, in 1835; the 1844 shipboard explosion that killed Secretary of State Abel Upshur and Treasury Secretary Thomas Gilmer; the inauguration of president James K. Polk in 1845; and the start of the Civil War.

Thornton’s entries show the networks of visiting and social events, including presidential “levees,” at which she, along with other wives of Washington’s leaders, observed and influenced power in the capital city. Included are household accounts, receipts, a visitors log, 1794-1798, book lists and reading notes, essays in French and English, recipes, a collection of autographs of Washington figures, photographs, and silhouettes. Among the silhouettes are a few done by Philadelphia artist Charles Willson Peale of Humboldt and his party during their 1804 visit to Washington (volume 6).

I haven’t examined this material in detail, but it seems like it would have to have a lot of authentic details for antebellum Washington DC. If you do find this material useful, I’d love to hear about it in comments.

This post is not a prelude to either posting more regularly or doing a thorough overhaul of the site. Sometimes I just can’t help myself from sharing. We’ll see what happens here as I get through a few other commitments.

New Catalog at US National Archives

To get started, here’s a preview of the improvements you can expect in this new release:

  • Enjoy the updated homepage featuring background images from catalog records
  • Add your comments on digitized records, descriptions, and authority records
  • Find what you need with a more intuitive advanced search
  • Efficiently browse hits with better “Next Page” link placement
  • Track your Citizen Archivist contributions with updated user account pages
  • Add data from scanned records to your developer toolbox with increased API functionality

Source: Searching for Something? Try the New Catalog! | NARAtions

I refer to the US National Archives in several entries in the Writer’s Guide. It looks like they’ve upgraded their catalog. It seems like it is all on the front end, but if you get results that don’t match anything in the Guide, please let me know.

Images from the History of Medicine (National Library of Medicine)

Images from the History of Medicine – http://www.nlm.nih.gov/hmd/ihm/

MedlinePlus Medical Tutorials – http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/tutorial.html

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What did quarantine signs look like in the 20th Century?
  • Where can I find examples of AIDS posters?
  • How did the US Armed forces encourage soldiers to use their mosquito nets during World War II?
  • Where can I find health posters in Chinese


From the website:

Images from the History of Medicine (IHM) provides access to over 70,000 images in the collections of the History of Medicine Division (HMD) of the U.S National Library of Medicine (NLM).

The collection includes portraits, photographs, caricatures, genre scenes, posters, and graphic art illustrating the social and historical aspects of medicine dated from the 15th to 21st century.

The records from the Images from the History of Medicine database are also searchable in LocatorPlus.

This database assists users in finding and viewing visual material for private study, scholarship, and research. This site contains some materials that may be protected by United States or foreign copyright laws. It is the users’ responsibility to determine compliance with the law when reproducing, transmitting, or distributing images found in IHM. Please note that some content in this database may contain material that some viewers may find to be challenging, disturbing or offensive. Viewer discretion is advised.

Strangely, it does not appear to be possible to do a straightforward date search in this resource. Using the faceted browsing on the left hand of the screen may help in your search. This database can be browsed as a single collection, by category, subject or geography. It may also be searched by the following fields:

  • Appears In
  • Call Number
  • Cited in
  • Contributor
  • Contributor (Conference)
  • Contributor (Organization)
  • Copyright Statement
  • Creator
  • Creator (Conference)
  • Creator (Organization)
  • Language
  • Manufacturer Information
  • Physical Description
  • Publication Country
  • Publication Information
  • Publisher Information
  • Series
  • Series Statement
  • Series Title
  • Subject (Conference)
  • Subject (Genre)
  • Subject (Geographic Name)
  • Subject (Keyword)
  • Subject (MeSH Term)
  • Subject (Organization)
  • Subject (Person)
  • Subject (Title)
  • Title
  • Title (Alternative)
  • URL

There is a very small subset of images from this library in Flickr Commons.

Writer’s Guide 2014 in review – Field Medicine and Character Names

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog. I was intrigued that two of the five most popular posts on this blog were field medicine related. Also, there is a need for character names:

  1. Sun or Moon Rise/Set Table for One Year (National Naval Observatory)
  2. How can I find a name so rare, that was only given to five or so babies in 1980?
  3. Brigade Combat Team (BCT) Physical Therapy Guide (2010)
  4. Marine Corps Combat Lifesaver Course Student Handout
  5. Social Security Popular Baby Names

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 7,500 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 6 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Writer’s Guide to Gov Info October 2014 Link Check Completed

I ran a link check across the whole of Writer’s Guide to Government Information and found several dead links. These have been fixed now.  Now that the National Atlas has been mothballed, I changed links for that to https://wayback.archive-it.org/4416/20140919122742/http://nationalatlas.gov/.


If you haven’t been to the Writer’s Guide to Government Information in awhile, here’s a repeat of the table of contents for you:

About the Site – Background about how this site came to be.

Chapters – Links to 467 Resource Posts

Appendices – Articles to make your research easier

About the Author

Contact Daniel

Writer’s Guide September Link Check Done Early

In a recent post I mentioned that I was implementing monthly link checking for the sources I’ve written about on the Writer’s Guide. My schedule is to link check the first weekend of each month.

Next weekend is my first shift of the semester at my local university library, so I decided to do September’s link check today. 

During the course of this link check I found that Knowledge – the US Army’s safety magazine had not only changed its URL but also the way it presents articles. Despite that, I think it will remain a useful source of accident ideas for your stories. See my entry for Knowledge for details. 

Good News for National Atlas – A Retirement Home #geography #writing

Several entries in the Writer’s Guide to Government Information feature content from the US Geological Survey’s National Atlas. I blogged about how sad I was that it was being deactivated on September 30, 2014.  Now it appears that the content, while not updated, will live on thanks to the Government Printing Office:


GPO Archives Nationalatlas.gov

In March 2014, the U.S. Geologic Survey (USGS) asked the Government Printing Office (GPO) to archive the National Atlas. The National Atlas was scheduled for removal on September 30, 2014, with content transitioned to the National Map. GPO’s Library Services & Content Management (LSCM) Web Archiving Team agreed to crawl their site. Since that time, the LSCM Web Archiving Team and USGS have collaborated to ensure the most accurate copy of the site is archived. USGS indicated they would be adding more content to the site before the final shutdown. Therefore, the Web Archiving Team will do a final crawl of the National Atlas site just before the September 30 shutdown. You can access the archived version of the National Atlas site on the FDLP Electronic Collection.


This is good news. I’ll be updating links to this resource after the final crawl is posted. 

Links Checked on Writer’s Guide to Government Information #writing

I’ve been away from this project, but now I’m back. I refined the settings on the link checker I’m using and did a full link check. Things ought to be working ok now, but if you notice anything broken, please leave a comment or drop me a line. 


Are professionals really able to tell when someone is lying better than an average person?

In my entry for Educing Information, I claim that you can answer the question, “” with this resource. Here’s how:

  1. Open up this PDF book and look at the Table of Contents.
  2. Go to chapter 3, Research on Detection of Deception: What We Know vs. What We Think We Know, which starts on page 45.

On page 47 of the book (p. 80 of the PDF file), you’ll find:

Beliefs vs. Reality
People who adopt the belief that there are reliable cues to deception are frequently incorrect. Significant research has studied people’s beliefs about indicators that someone is being deceptive and their own attitudes and confidence about their personal ability to be deceptive. A summary of 57 studies examining beliefs about nonverbal cues to deception indicated that many people do not actually know what they think they know: in other words, their beliefs are just as often wrong as they are right.36 These patterns of erroneous beliefs are widespread and are found equally among professional interrogators/investigators and novices.7,37-40

Research into beliefs and attitudes about deception may have value for predicting how people might try to conceal deception on the basis of their own beliefs about cues to deception. This research may also facilitate the identification of erroneous beliefs that intelligence collectors may hold and that should be corrected in training. However, the study of attitudes and beliefs does not in itself provide information on which cues to deception actually work. Therefore, this line of research may at best provide indirect support to the development of effective and reliable methods for detecting deception.

Most behavioral research discusses indicators of deception in terms of nonverbal, paralinguistic, and verbal behaviors. The literature also contains global judgments of behavior that may potentially have some utility.

Some of the resources cited in the quote above are:

36. Vrij, A. (2000). Detecting Lies and Deceit: The Psychology of Lying and the
Implications for Professional Practice. Chichester, UK: Wiley.

37. Anderson, D. E., DePaulo, B. M., Ansfi eld, M. E., Tickle, J. J., and Green, E. (1998). “Beliefs about cues to deception: Mindless Stereotypes or
Untapped Wisdom?” Journal of Nonverbal Behavior 23, 67-89.

38. Bond, C. F., Kahler, K. N., and Paolicelli, L. M. (1985). “The Miscommunication of Deception: An Adaptive Perspective.” Journal of Experimental Social
Psychology 21, 331-345.

39. Stromwall, L.A., and Granhag, P.A. (2003). “How to Detect Deception? Arresting the Beliefs of Police Officers, Prosecutors and Judges.”
Psychology, Crime and Law 9(1), 19-36.

40. Vrij, A., Semin, G. R., and Foppes, J.H. (1996). “Lie Expert’s Beliefs about Nonverbal Indicators of Deception.” Gedrag en Organisatie 9 (1),

 Educing Information is just one resource from the World of Espionage section of Writer’s Guide to Government Information:

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