Research is so much more than Googling for answers. It’s time consuming. It’s mentally exhausting. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable because it forces us to leave our comfort zones. But most of the time it’s pure joy. Here’s why:

Research is traveling to historically significant sites, running my hands over 200-year-old brick (kind of a no-no, but oh well), and studying the anatomy of a ruin. I posted some photos of my visit to the old Bynum sugar mill in Bailey’s Prairie, Texas on Facebook. With that experiment, I learned an important lesson about providing historical context in social media posts. A long time ago things were the way they were for a reason, and we should never exclude context for the sake of brevity.

“I had made important plans for the day, plans for a real adventure, to explore the hidden remnants of what used to be one of the state’s most productive sugar mills.” - Krystal Mercer McLellan

Exploring the Bynum sugar mill in Bailey’s Prairie, Texas.

Research is visiting living history parks in urban wildernesses, examining frontier building replicas, and talking with the passionate people who make them possible. I’m looking at you, Explore Park in Roanoke, Virginia! A blog post on frontier log building is in the pipeline.

An 18th century smokehouse replica at the frontier fort in Explore Park in Roanoke, Virginia.

Research is rolling up my sleeves and digging in the dirt. Archaeology gives a voice to the voiceless and enables new interpretations of human history that are impossible to derive from the written historical record. Earlier this year, I met an anthropologist who invited me to observe the excavation of a site in my geographic area of interest. It was an exciting new experience for me, and I learned a whole lot about the scientific method and exploring the unrecorded past.

Student archaeologists scrape away at what may have been a firebox that held a train of kettles in a sugar mill ruin in Brazoria, Texas.

Research is frequenting the most beautiful and inspiring places for reading and processing information. While I loved working in my nasty pink sweatshirt with a “Southern Momma” top bun at my home in Washington D.C., conducting research at the Library of Congress was a magical experience by comparisonI could waste entire weekends thumbing through academic journals in the Thomas Jefferson Building’s Main Reading Room.

The Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building in Washington D.C.

Research is spending five hours in a used bookstore on a Saturday afternoon. Patronizing independent bookstores counts as research, right? And petting bookstore cats? Yes, it’s all research!

Resident bookstore cat at El Virrey in Miraflores, Lima, Peru.

Research is interviewing other first-time authors to learn about their writing processes. In March 2017, I had a great time talking with Sandi Giver about her experience in mission-oriented writing, editing, getting published, and book promotion.  It was an info-packed conversation with a truly inspiring person!

Hanging out with Author Sandi Giver in the Eastern Market neighborhood of Washington D.C.

Research is an adventure in world building. During my last visit to Texas, I spent a lot of time running the roads in search of various historical sites. It was hard for me to conceptualize where all the events I had been reading about physically took place, so I downloaded free GIS software and overlaid property lines from 1829 on top of a 2016 map of Brazoria County. This added a new dimension to my perspective of our modern-day surroundings.

Research is connecting with other humans. In the past year, the most powerful truths about history and humanity were revealed to me through interactions with – that’s right – people. These are teachers, historians, librarians, scientists, authors, diplomats, security guards, activists, Freemasons, museum docents, clergy(wo)men, and carpenters — all subject matter experts who are knowledgeable or experienced in my particular areas of interest.

Making connections and mixing it up in Konstantin Egorovich Makovsky’s “A Boyar Wedding Feast.”

Just for fun, this how Google defines “Research”:

While I trust that Google’s definition is accurate, I believe we writers have much to gain by approaching our research and fact-finding processes in the same way that we approach living our lives. We just need to keep it up for as long as possible. We should try everything once. Most importantly, we should remember to trust and connect with other human beings. They are the best resources.

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