When I started writing, back in May of 2013, all I had was the 3,500 word essay I had written about my sister Caroline’s adoption experiences and an outline that I built and framed around that essay. The outline covered things like Mom and Dad’s childhoods, their meeting and marriage, starting a family, and so on. I layered in events like how Dad got into politics and his early elections. I moved on to political challenges he faced and his very real local successes that endeared him to much of Summersville’s populace.
I had two main sources for this part: Dad and The Nicholas Chronicle. I wanted color around everything. What made Dad decide to run for mayor to begin with, what people or other obstacles got in his way, what were his first homes like, what did Mom think of Summersville, how did he ever decide to buy the big house we lived in? I generally emailed my questions to Dad, and he emailed me back. That was critical, because I revisited countless times what ended up being about forty pages of emails between Dad and me.
The Chronicle was also critical though. As a memoirist, I was lucky to have a family that lived a very public life. We had a bunch of clippings already saved–from when the hospital opened, when President Johnson came to town, when Summersville celebrated Bill Bryant Day–and all those were very helpful. But as I constructed my story, I realized I had missing pieces of the puzzle and that if I had access to the Chronicle archives, I might just have a treasure trove of material that would be useful to me. Imagine my disappointment upon visiting the Chronicle office and finding that they had bound copies but only back to the 1960s, and their store of those was spotty. That’s when I found out that the West Virginia Archives and Library had on film practically every issue of the Chronicle back to its inception in the 1880s. Even then it was not easy. I had to compile my list of dates, periods, or years in which I was looking for something, and then Caroline and I hoofed it to Charleston to go research the film frame by frame. By today’s standards, it was primitive, but primitive was better than nothing at all!
At other points in putting this story together, I realized I had missing pieces that neither Dad nor the Chronicle nor Caroline could help with. For those, I’m thankful to Aunt Peggy and Aunt Patti, my sister-in-law Linda, Billy’s old girlfriend Marilyn, and several other kind old friends of the family who shared their memories. For the remaining holes, I had to simply hunker down for some old-fashioned research. That’s how I got the great context around Prohibition and the Mine Wars in West Virginia, the 1968 Democratic National Convention, and the supreme and selfless efforts put forth by Louise Bing, Jim Comstock, Dad and many other loyal West Virginians to procure a Lincoln statue for the Capitol grounds.