Writer's Guide to Government Information

Resources to inject real life detail into your fiction

Archive for the tag “Washington”

American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1940

American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1940 – http://www.loc.gov/collection/federal-writers-project/about-this-collection/

Updated 3/15/2014 to reflect new interface.

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What was it like to live through the Great Chicago Fire?
  • What are some names associated with mining in Montana in the 1930s?
  • Where can I find an account of the Cult of Father Divine?


In the 1930s, writers making $20 a week working for Uncle Sam interviewed over 10,000 people for their life’s history. According to the website:

People who told stories of life and work during the 1930s include an Irish maid from Massachusetts, a woman who worked in a North Carolina textile mill, a Scandinavian iron worker, a Vermont farm wife, an African-American worker in Chicago meat packing house, and a clerk in Macy’s department store.

Many Americans in the thirties remembered the nineteenth century as vividly as some people now recall the Depression years. The life history narratives tell of meeting Billy the Kid, surviving the Chicago fire of 1871, making the pioneer journey to the Western Territories, and fleeing to America to avoid conscription into the Russian Czar’s army.

In a number of cases, pseudonyms were used to protect privacy. The collection can be searched by keyword. Results can be filtered by the following criteria on the left hand side of the page:

  • Original Formats
  • Online Formats
  • Dates
  • Sites and Collections
  • Contributors
  • Subjects
  • Locations
  • Languages

On the results page, be sure to note the “look inside” on each item. Clicking on this will take you to a different results page for that one document that will note exactly where your search term appears.

Items may be read online or downloaded in a number of formats, including gif and XML. Neither plain text nor PDF is provided for you.

Story Ideas:

Aside from being a great source of daily living lore from 1850s-1930s, this collection could help you with back story. For example if you were writing a story about Roswell New Mexico, you might connect your characters to people who lived in Roswell before the UFO era. People like Sidney L. Prager, pioneer merchant of Roswell in the 1880s/1890s who happened to work with the Jaffa brothers. Spelled the same way as the Jaffa of Stargate SG-1.

This is another open collection free of copyright restrictions, so material from it can be directly incorporated into your story.


Washington WildWatchCams

Washington WildWatchCams – http://wdfw.wa.gov/wildwatch/


Links to live cams and prerecorded video of bats, bluebirds, eagles, herons, loons, martins, owls, ospreys, salmon, seals and swifts.

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.

Northwest Native Plant Guide

Northwest Native Plant Guide – https://green2.kingcounty.gov/gonative/index.aspx

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • How can I use windstorm debris for plants?
  • What might a character plant to discourage deer?
  • What does a paper birch tree look like?


This Seattle area guide is focused on getting people to use native plants in their landscaping. Two notable resources from this site are “find a native plant” and “How to Articles.”

The Find a Native Plant section has plant images and can browsed or searched. The database is searched by plant type, moisture requirements, exposure requirements, general (including aggressive, fire-resistant, fruit, spreading), color, growing habit, and wildlife (attract birds and butterflies). Plant records include images, size of plant, description and keywords. Some records links to articles. For instance, the entry for black gooseberry links to the article deer resistant plants.

The “How To Articles” focus on different gardening practices and might be helpful for depicting characters who garden or who need to deter deer or paper wasps.

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