Writer's Guide to Government Information

Resources to inject real life detail into your fiction

Archive for the tag “clothing”

Making a Continental Marine Uniform

Making a Continental Marine Uniform. Jack B. Hilliard and Doris S. Maley. 1975. 92 pp.
(Print – http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/1976979)
(Online: https://archive.org/details/MakingAContinentalMarineUniform)

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • Where can I find a compact history of battles involving Continental Marines?
  • What did an officer’s hat look like during the American Revolution?
  • What US raids on foreign soil took place before the Declaration of Independence?
  • How do I make a half-gaiter?


From the introduction, “This guidebook is designed to aid the amateur tailor in creating a Continental Marine uniform of sufficient authenticity while at the same time emphasizing shortcuts and economies which take little from appearance but help keep costs to a bare minimum.”

Aside from the expected materials lists and patterns for each part of the Continental Marine uniform, the introduction contains a concise history of military actions that Continental Marines participated in.

A Finding Aid to National Archives Records Relating to the Cold War

A Finding Aid to National Archives Records Relating to the Cold War – https://www.archives.gov/publications/ref-info-papers/107

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • How was the Soviet bloc portrayed during the 1950s, 60s and 70s?
  • How did the National Security Council react to Cold War events?
  • How did people dress in Cold War times?


The Cold War and scenarios inspired by it continue to become books and movies. This is a guide to primary resources from the American side of that conflict. The guide is broken down into the following areas:

  • Records in Presidential Libraries
  • Comprehensive Subject Matter Records
  • Records of the Military
  • Intelligence Records
  • Foreign Policy Records
  • Records of Congress
  • Appendix I: List of Record Groups (RG) Cited in Reference Information Paper 107
  • Appendix II: Sources of Additional Information About Records or Finding Aids Described in Reference Information Paper 107

The records include text, photographs and moving images. For the most part, accessing these records will require a trip to one of the offices of the National Archives. See http://www.archives.gov/locations/ for a list of locations.

Search Tips:

Some material is available online. To find it, go to the National Archives “Online Public Access” search at http://www.archives.gov/research/search/ and click on “advanced search.” Uncheck all boxes except “Archival Descriptions with Digital Objects.” Then type in words related to your search. For example, “universal newsreel” or “movietone” will pull up newsreel footage. It may be a full newsreel or a 1-2 minute sample with an opportunity to purchase a DVD. A search on usia attitude surveys should produce a number of “daily telegraph files”

Ansel Adams’s Photographs of Japanese-American Internment at Manzanar

“Suffering Under a Great Injustice”: Ansel Adams’s Photographs of Japanese-American Internment at Manzanar

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What were the Japanese-American internment camps like?
  • What were some fashions from the 1940s?
  • What were the official reasons for the Japanese-American?


In one of the worst incidents of racial profiling in American history, World War II saw tens of thousands of American citizens stripped of their property and sent to relocation camps simply because they were of Japanese descent. The one place where this did not happen was Hawaii. No acts of sabotage were ever traced to Japanese-Americans in Hawaii or anywhere else.

This is a collection of a couple of hundred photographs which may be browsed by subject or searched by keyword. There are a number of people featured in these photographs, making it useful as a resource for fashions in the 1940s.

Worth reviewing on this website is the supplemental item “Born Free and Equal”, a digitized copy of a book of selected photographs from Adams’ work that was published in 1944. It is notable for the anti-racist forward acknowledging Japanese-American suffering from Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes. He quotes President Roosevelt as saying “Americanism is a matter of the mind and heart; Americanism is not, and never was, a matter of race or ancestry.” This is the same President and Interior secretary that oversaw the forced relocation of Japanese-Americans. Also, although the forward was published in 1944, the Manazar camp wasn’t closed until November 1945, according to its Wikipedia article.

U.S. Geological Survey Photographic Library

U.S. Geological Survey Photographic Library – https://library.usgs.gov/photo/#/

Representative Questions This Resource Can Answer:

  • What did Mount Saint Helens look like in 1964 and in 1984?
  • What does the landscape look like in Joshua Tree National Park?
  • What did Tokyo look like after its 1923 earthquake?


This photo library contains 30,000 photographs from 1868 to the present. The library can be searched by keyword or by browsing the following topics:

  • Earthquakes
  • Mines, Mills, Quarries
  • Mount St. Helens
  • National Parks
  • Photographers
  • Pioneer Photographers
  • Portrait Collection

Each topic brings up subtopics. The earthquake section is divided up by names of large quakes, such as San Fernando in 1971 or Yemen 1982. The Portraits collection might be useful for seeing clothing styles for the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Aside from being a source to add realistic settings to your stories, this library can be used to illustrate your book, story or website. As stated by the terms of service at https://library.usgs.gov/photo/#/about, all of photos in the USGS library are public domain and be used without permission or credit. USGS would appreciate a credit to the photo library.

Video Glossary from Lawrence Livermore Labs

Video Glossary from Lawrence Livermore Labs – http://videoglossary.lbl.gov

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • Where do extremophiles live?
  • What might a biologist look like?
  • What is cellular senescence?


If you are more of an auditory/visual learner, this site might be for you. Scientists from this National Laboratory spend a few minutes explaining particular terms. Sometimes there are visual aids, but most of the time it’s like a face to face chat. Or face to face short monologue. Some of the definitions available that might help a space based story be true to hard scifi are:

  • antimatter
  • artificial photosynthesis
  • cosmological inflation
  • dark energy
  • dark matter
  • extremophile
  • galactic emissions
  • gravity
  • gravitational lensing
  • measuring the universe
  • neutrino astronomy
  • plasma
  • quarks
  • solar cell
  • supernova

Aside from the benefit of the scientists’ knowledge is the opportunity to observe a scientist speaking on a subject of interest to them. See the variety of people who can be scientists and engineers. What do they look like? How do they dress? Notice anything special about their mannerisms or patterns of speech? Do they use stuff on their desk as props?

Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information (Library of Congress) photographs

Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Photographs

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What sort of living conditions did the rural poor have?
  • How did Depression era schools look?
  • Where can I get photos of lumber mills?


From the website,

“The images in the Farm Security Administration-Office of War Information Collection are among the most famous documentary photographs ever produced. Created by a group of U.S. government photographers, the images show Americans in every part of the nation. In the early years, the project emphasized rural life and the negative impact of the Great Depression, farm mechanization, and the Dust Bowl. In later years, the photographers turned their attention to the mobilization effort for World War II. The core of the collection consists of about 164,000 black-and-white photographs. This release provides access to over 160,000 of these images; future additions will expand the black-and-white offering. The FSA-OWI photographers also produced about 1600 color photographs during the latter days of the project. ”


According to the Rights and Reproductions page for this collection, it is likely that these images are reusable without cost and most fall into the public domain. But be sure to read the page for some cautions and realize that in addition to copyright, publicity and privacy issues could apply.

2013 Update – Since I first wrote this entry, the color photos have been posted to Flickr. This makes the photos easier to use than ever.

2014 Update – This collection was taken off American Memory and split into two collections with similar functionality. The search tips below still apply.

Search Tips/Story Ideas:

I recommend using geographic terms in your searches.  Check out the photos from taken in Hollywood to see fashion trends including cotton stockings. Photos might also alert you to events you might not have been aware of. Consider the photograph with the LC call number, LC-USE6- D-008372, “Hollywood enlists its typewriters for war” with the following caption:

“Hollywood enlists its typewriters for war. Hollywood studios have answered the nation’s call for typewriters for the armed services. Picture shows a load of machines released by 20th Century Fox studies to two Uncle Sam’s Waves. The schools and private owners to sell one out of every four machines to obtain 600,000 typewriters urgently needed by the armed services. New production ceased October 31. Typewriter manufacturers are now producing war materials.”

I knew about many kinds of rationing, but typewriters? How about you? How did people feel about giving up those typewriters? How did a Wave feel when she first started typing away at something that could have wrote the movie she went to last year? How many other potential vignettes are sleeping silently in these files waiting for a writer to give them life?

U.S. Government Photos and Images

U.S. Government Photos and Images  – https://search.usa.gov/search/images?affiliate=usagov&query=


This page is a clearinghouse for photo libraries across the federal government. In many cases, photos from these libraries can be used freely, but check the photo pages carefully. This site is divided into the following topics:

  • Defense and International Relations
  • Environment, Energy, and Agriculture
  • General Government
  • Health and Nutrition
  • History, Arts, and Culture
  • Money and Taxes
  • Public Safety and Law
  • Science and Technology

Some of the more notable libraries linked from here include:

An American Ballroom Companion: Dance Instruction Manuals, ca. 1490-1920

An American Ballroom Companion: Dance Instruction Manuals, ca. 1490-1920 – http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/dihtml/dihome.html

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What were some dances in England during the 1710s?
  • How and when did Irish dance start in New York City?
  • What were the expectations of a 19th Century lady asked to sing or play the piano?


From the website,

“Dance manuals can tell us important things about how people lived in past eras. For example, the illustrations and, later, photographs not only illuminate how people dressed, but demonstrate body carriage. These books highlight the importance of knowing the most fashionable dances and detail grand balls, private gatherings, and other social events that included dance, thus describing the importance of dance (or lack of) in any particular era, as well as how to appropriately spend leisure time. In addition, each era has codified rules of etiquette, specific gender roles, as well as codes regarding acceptable behavior toward one’s partner while dancing. Dance manuals are an excellent source for this type of information. And, of course, the manuals detail the steps and dances–in many cases, dances that were popular before the advent of photographs or film. Many manuals also contain music to accompany the dances. All of this information is helpful to anybody who wishes to recreate (often called “reconstruct”) dances of the past or to better understand the evolution of popular social dance.”

Post Navigation