Writer's Guide to Government Information

Resources to inject real life detail into your fiction

Archive for the tag “states”

Appendix on State Specific Information Published

I just published Appendix C,  Finding Specific Information on US States. This is a combination of resources and tips you can use to focus your world building on a particular US state. The appendix is divided into:

  • General Resources
  • Demographics (Including commuting and occupational stats)
  • Law
  • Regional and State Plant Resources
  • Transportation
  • What to do about other topics

Please check it out and feel free to offer feedback.  If you somehow missed prior announcements about the Writer’s Guide to Government Information, please check out my Table of Contents.


Biographical Databases via State Agency Databases Across the Fifty States

Biographical Databases via State Agency Databases Across the Fifty States – http://godort.libguides.com/statedatabase

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • Who are some Maine-based female science fiction writers?
  • Which of Kentucky’s governors was a distiller from Bourbon county?
  • Where can I find a pre Civil War black bricklayer in North Carolina?
  • Who were Washington State’s Farmer-Labor politicians?
  • When were National Silver Republicans active in Colorado?


This page is a link to biographical databases published by state governments. The list is maintained by librarian volunteers on behalf of the American Library Association Government Documents Roundtable.
Databases of note include:

  • Colorado Legislators Past and Present – A database of biographies on current and historical Colorado state legislators.
  • Kentucky Governor’s Biographies – Static list providing brief biographical sketches of all of Kentucky’s governors since 1792.
  • Maine Writers Database – Searchable database of writers with a relationship to the State of Maine. The connection may be birth, residency, employment or works that are set in Maine. Goes back to the 1700s.
  • North Carolina Builders & Architects: A Biographical Dictionary This biographical dictionary highlights architects and builders who have produced North Carolina’s architecture for more than 300 years. Clicking on “show more options” opens up Gender, Race, Trade, Styles & Forms, Building Types, and “Flourished Dates.” Records includes locations where the builders and architects did projects.
  • Washington HistoryMakers – A biographical database of Washington elected officials and activists. Entries include basic biographical information with a photo and links to other online information. The database covers the offices of governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, treasurer, and representatives of the U.S. House and Senate and will continue to be expanded.

State Court Rules

State Court Rules

Our system of federalism prescribes a different set of court rules for every state. Here are two examples:

Alaska Rules of Court (http://courts.alaska.gov/rules/rules.htm#rules)
California Rules of Court    (http://www.courts.ca.gov/rules.htm)

In addition for being useful in trial scenes, state courts usually have rules for probate and so could be useful in stories about tangled inheritances.

To locate the court rules for the state in your story,  try searching your favorite search engine for [name of your state] “rules of court.” Sites with URLs ending in .us or .gov are the likeliest to be the official versions. Or at least as official as online versions are allowed to be. Many courts will only accept resources published in print as official.

Plants Database from USDA

Plants Database from USDA – http://plants.usda.gov

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What plants can I expect to find in North Dakota?
  • What does Sonoran Indian mallow look like?
  • What does flowering garlic look like?


While this plants database has many good features, the two items that you should know most about are the Plants Gallery and the State Checklists.
The Plants Gallery contains over 40,000 images consisting of photographs and line drawings. It is the place to go if you want to see what Sonoran Indian mallow looks like. The gallery can be searched by scientific name, common name, family name, category (fern, etc), Duration (annual, perennial, etc), artist (for line drawings), citation, image location, native status, wetland status, distribution by state and province (Canadian)

Records from gallery searches contain the scientific and common names of the plant, growth habit, native status, images, synonyms, a distribution map and a “kingdom to species” classification. Using the plant gallery will give you something to write a description from and let you know if you’ve correctly placed that plant. If you want to use a non-native plant out in the middle of nowhere, that could be a clue to something being out of place.

According to the Plants.gov website, the state checklists contain “Symbol, Synonym Symbol, Scientific Name with Authors, National Common Name, and Family. Fields in this text file are delimited by commas and enclosed in double quotes.” These files are spreadsheet friendly.

Although the feature is called “state checklists”, this information is also available for US territories and protectorates, Canadian provinces, Greenland (Administered by Denmark) and St. Pierre and Miquelon (Administered by France).

Other helpful features on plants.gov include guides to “culturally significant plants” which document significant human (often indigenous) uses and the Threatened and Endangered species database which can be used to give your character a cause.

Search Tips:

Clicking on Advanced Search provides access to dozens of different criteria that can be combined. This screen allows you to search for plants of high toxicity in a given state as well as for plants that can be human or livestock food. The search for toxic plants does not provide details about their toxicity. You’ll need to go to other resources for details.

In addition to effects on humans, one can search by height, life cycle characteristics and so much more.

The search results only list scientific names, but clicking on a name brings up a report that include the plant’s common name.

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