Category Archives: Doing Research

British Guiana (Guyana): A Red Thread Weaves Through My Life

QUESTION: What do the following things have in common?

College paper

Jim Jones

Madame Rosalie de Leval

Tikwis Begbie

C. J.

Pittsburgh woman

Rien at Mt. Washington, N. H.

USA Today, June 22, 2012, pp 4D

Silver Green Turtle Soup Ladle

ANSWER: They are all part of a continuous Chinese red thread that is woven through the tapestry of my life. You know—that red thread of Asian myth that has been reinterpreted to mean that relationships between people are meant to be, and if thwarted, the proverbial thread would not, could not, be broken. The persons would eventually come together.

Each event and/or person is connects the tiny country of British Guiana/Guyana to me by an invisible thread that I never could have foreseen when I began my journey of writing a historic romance novel.


The surprise journey began with the writing of a paper on race relations in Surinam, the immediate neighbor of British Guiana (Guyana).

It was a paper that my professor graded shorter than I felt it was worth, about a country next to Guyana, the country that was brought into a discussion nearly fifty years later.


The next time British Guiana passed by was the horror of Jim Jones, which I won’t go into that except to say that

America’s perception of Guyana is colored by cult leader Jones, who in 1978, incited more than nine hundred followers to commit suicide by drinking a cyanide-laced beverage. Today, this small country is utterly lacking in Kool-aid irony…Ask random people here what “drinking the Kool-Aid” means, and they mostly just shrug. Jones’s dark legacy barely resonates here.

However, it’s the first thing many Americans think of when they hear of the country formerly named British Guiana. Through the years I’ve read the articles, listened to the news stories, and watched the movies about Jim Jones. It wasn’t a pretty story!


Sometime around year 2000 Madame Rosalie de Leval brought British Guiana back into my life. She was a French émigré who, to escape the French Revolution, came to the United States. Almost immediately she became involved an unsuccessful land speculation deal in Maine (with General Henry Knox and William Duer), married a Netherlands ambassador, and ended up on a plantation in British Guiana. She was introduced into my life because she allegedly gave my ancestors, Louis and Mary Googins des Isles, the land they lived on.  Since then I’ve been working on a historic romance novel on this story.


Which leads me to the next person on my list, Tikwis Begbie, who was discovered by a friend who helped me with research for my novel. Tikwis focus was saving historical British Guiana records from destruction. In her files she had records of van Berckle adn Madame, which she sent to me. Another strange thread emanating from a distant land. I owe her a debt of gratitude for her contribution to my  work.


The Guyana Flag. Also known as “The Golden Arrowhead”, the national flag of Guyana was adopted in May 1966 when the country achieved independence from the United Kingdom

The thread next wove from lands afar to my nextdoor neighbor, where I attended  party.

One of the guests, C. J., offered to help prepare a photograph on my laptop. While doing so, he asked me about my novel, which I stated went around the world—Boston, Philadelphia, France, Ohio, Maine, British Guiana…

When I mentioned British Guiana he jumped at me.

“It’s not Gi-ana,” he snapped. “It’s Continue reading


Correcting Historical Data


     A slim steel object that resembles a rusty bayonet is the center of a debate in Charlston, West Virginia.

     Part of an exhibit meant to portray the history of coal mining in that state, it represents a “Stickin’ Tommy:” it holds a stubby candle in a loop at its midpoint…Long before the days of carbide lanterns and helmet lamps, miners jabbed these into the seams they were working to light their way as they dug coal… Miners would hang the shared wick of homemade candles on the hook as spares…*

     The problem is a hook that rises up above the candle loop should…be facing downward. However, the hook is placed in the display upside down.*
      This error was discovered by labor historian Wess Harris.*

       I am not a trained historian, although a history professor I spoke with while I was doing research for a historical journal article and my historic romance novel** dubbed me an “independent historian.”

     During my research I’ve discovered numerous errors in historical books, documents, and local histories. My “lowest” experience occurred at an event during Ligonier, Pennsylvania’s, 250th anniversary.

     The speaker was an expert in the George Washington papers. I attended his talk because I wanted to know if he was familiar with Continue reading

Procope Cafe, Paris: Taking photos is an international venture


     Research for a historical (romance) novel and accompanying DVD/Power Point presentation can be challenging, especially when the scenes and research occur in Boston, Mass.; Alexandria, VA; the Scioto area of Ohio; New York, NY; Philadelphia, PA; Lamoine, ME—and Paris, France. Travel to some of these places may be reasonable, since my husband and I travel to New England as often as we are able (I am a New Englander and love the coast). However, travel to France is not reasonable for us.

     When my research uncovered a French café that has been in continuous operation since 1686, I sighed contentedly. THIS could be the location of a scene somewhere in the novel, probably used as a back-story. The scene would occur several weeks after the fall of the Bastille. The characters include members of the French Scioto Company (an extension of the Ohio Company’s sub- land grant known as the Scioto Associates). These characters are discussing ways to interest the French populace in purchasing land in Ohio. American lawyer/poet Joel Barlow is present, as an agent of the Scioto Associates, as is an extraordinary woman, Rosalie de la Val (known as Madame). Being female, she was not allowed to be in the café. However, she entered, disguised in male attire (she was to become an independent land speculator in America).

     I needed pictures of the Procope Café. I found some on various Internet sites, including the photo site FLICKR. They show an elegant café, where patrons through the centuries met: writers, philosophers, revolutionaries, statesmen, scientists, dramatists, stage artists, play writers, literary critics, Americans.
     These excellent pictures supplied me with sufficient visual description to write the scene. However, copying the photos for use in a power point presentation (or to illustrate this post) could lead to copyright theft accusations. The process of getting permissions is unfamiliar to me, and seemed bothersome. What I really wanted to do was to somehow obtain my own photos. And to get them without flying across the ocean!

     I was pleased to receive an E-mail from a distant relative in Sweden, Ann Aberg. Her daughter, she wrote, was going to study in Paris for a year. I replied, boldly asking if she might take some pictures of the Procope Café for me. There was no response.


    Fortunately, three persons in my community go to France on a regular basis. Since one isn’t a photographer, I begged and cajoled the other two to do some photography for me. I sent the first traveler off with the following note:

     I’m writing an article for a historical journal, the New England Quarterly, and am also authoring a historic romance novel, concerning the La Compagnie du Scioto. The time era is 1789-1790. I will have one scene take place at the Café La Procope. I have asked (to continue reading this post, click on: PROCOPE CAFÉ, PARIS: Part 1—Finding photographs: An International Adventure )

Doing Historical Research in Philadelphia


Research at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Germantown, and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

In September, 2008, my husband Monte and I spent twenty-eight days traveling along the northeastern seacoast. We began in Philadelphia and ended in the mountains of New Hampshire, before traveling through Vermont into New York. As I look back, three strands braided themselves together to form the story of our travels: first, research, second cemeteries and third, people— family, old friends and new friends. The post below relates our experiences doing research for my historic romance novel while we were in Philadelphia.  

     Our research journey began in Philadelphia, at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, the repository of the Bingham Papers. In the 1790s, Henry Knox and William Duer purchased the Penobscot lands in the Maine territory of what was then Massachusetts. When they went “belly-up,” the land was returned to the state, freeing it for William Bingham’s land speculation.

     However, the Bingham purchase wasn’t my only interest. I’m writing a historical journal article profiling a female French émigré, Madame Rosalie de Leval. Her goal was to create a French colony in what is Hancock County, Maine, today. Her land purchases became caught in the tidal wave crash of the Duer bankruptcy. I’d been unable to locate information on her, and the reference alluded to above indicated that packets of letters and documents, to and from her, were lodged in the Bingham papers. These papers would be of value prior to any further research I was doing. Thus, I knew I had to travel to Philadelphia, and the best way to do so would be to go there enroute from my home in Southwestern Pennsylvania to Newport, Rhode Island, the starting point for our New England travels.

     Once my husband, Monte, and I determined to travel to New England via Philadelphia, I decided to visit the church where Madame was married in 1794. The starting place was the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, in Germantown. I’d prearranged with the historian, John E. Peterson, to obtain information and perhaps a photograph.

     While there, I learned that the Zion Lutheran Church and St. Michael’s Lutheran Church congregations were once tied together, although each had a separate pastor. I also saw a painting of the pastor who was most likely to have performed the ceremony for Madame and her husband. We were shown a model of the two churches as they were in 1794—they had been rebuilt several times since then—and best of all, the historian offered to locate the original book where Madame’s wedding was recorded in 1794. He also gave us materials, including a beautiful pamphlet on Henry Melchior Muhlenberg and The Colonial Lutheran Church. In it are pictures of the models and copies of documents.

     By then it was mid-afternoon. The Historical Society of Pennsylvania was (to continue reading this story click on: DOING HISTORICAL RESEARCH IN PHILADELPHIA