Do I look like the relative of
an infamous man?
Research is so important, even when you’re writing fiction. There have been many blogs written about the topic, and they all make sense. I’m going to touch on another aspect of research.
Double check your facts if your information is coming from research done on the Internet.
Bartalo (or Bartolo) Ballerino was my great-great-grandfather. On a whim, I looked him up on the Internet and found more than I bargained for. He wasn’t a pillar of the community, and in fact, while he started out as a farmer, he and Theobald Bauer, an ex-boxer, ended up running the Red Light District in Old Los Angeles. He was notorious throughout the southwest, but it wasn’t for the reasons I found in my wanderings.
According to a few websites he was Italian and a big, bad Italian mob boss. Uh, he wasn’t Italian and his real name wasn’t Ballerino. He wasn’t part of Little Italy, and he wasn’t a crime boss for the mob.
Actually, he arrived from Chile and assumed a new name – Ballerino. No one knows what his true name was, although I do know what county he was from (in Chile). However, we (family) do know of his line of work. He inspired the book, A Well-Kept Family Secret, which is fiction but which includes some facts relating to the time period. He and my great-great-grandmother eventually became naturalized American citizens.
Am I defending him? Not really, and yet, in a way I am. He wasn’t a stellar citizen, but he wasn’t a mob boss either. Yes, there are legends about him, but they don’t relate to The Mob. There are stories passed down through my family, but again, they don’t relate to The Mob.
Do I have documentation about him? You betcha!
By the way, there is a family legend about him hiding gold in Old Los Angeles. I used that as part of my storyline. For years, both family and strangers searched Los Angeles for the gold. It was never found, to the best of my knowledge. If it was found, no one ever stepped up the plate and held up their index finger, saying, “Yoohoo. I found the gold.”
So why would I use this relative as an example of researching? Because what’s been posted about him isn’t true. It’s one of those rare times when I actually know what I’m talking about. When you research a subject you might find some really exciting information on the Internet, but take a deep breath and do a little more research. Make sure you have the facts, as much as possible, especially if you’re going to write about an historical figure.
I noticed that the person(s) who posted information about Ballerino made a point of saying they didn’t have his date of birth or death. Hmm. I do. I did some honest research and didn’t make assumptions. I know a lot about him, his life, and his family.
In Old Murders Never Die I needed to include appliances that were used in the late 1800s. I researched those before writing the book. It sounds like a small thing, but if a writer gets it wrong, someone will call them on it. I needed a stove that would have been used around 1880, not 1915, or 1920. I included an ice box, not a refrigerator. Appliances were just the beginning of the research.
Sometimes we need to examine even the smallest things. Just the facts, ma’am, just the facts. Don’t make things up, which I’ve seen done many times. Know what you’re talking about. By the way, some readers will take the fictionalized facts as… Well, fact. Your readers need to trust you.
What are some of the things you’ve had to research that were different, or odd? What type of research gave you the most trouble? Did you do your research online or at the library, using a book? The curious want to know.
Until next time, visit your local library and look for the facts, ma’am (or sir). And remember, relatives are just a little drip in the big gene pool of life.
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What Are the Odds? is based on a real house where I was able to do firsthand research. The story is fiction, but the house is real and described the way it really was, including a hidden staircase.