Writers References for Online Research.

Apr 28, 2019
research creative writing

The Proceedings of the Old Bailey, 1674-1913

A fully searchable edition of the largest body of texts detailing the lives of non-elite people ever published, containing 197,745 criminal trials held at London's central criminal court. 



Murderpedia is a free online encyclopedic dictionary of murderers and the largest 
database about serial killers and mass murderers around the world.


UK Missing Persons Unit

Says our thriller writer, author Helen Callaghan, "It's the little details about the victims that are most affecting and really make you think. So I often visit here too: UK Missing Persons.  The lists of possessions, tattoos, etc get me every time."


Says Helen, "The other place I use is the Suzy Lamplugh Trust as they have great insights and advice into stalking and threat."

Suzy Lamplugh Charity


"The other thing for crime research is Futurelearn. They are open online courses and I have done loads of the forensic and the art theft and fraud ones, and the quality is usually excellent. They aggregate various UK university short courses. Most of the ones I've done are free, but you only have timed access to them. If you want longer or to keep them, you pay £50 or so."

Forensics Courses etc at Futurelearn

Forensic Science and Criminal Justice

Learn how police use science in criminal investigations and its role in the criminal justice system with this free online course.

Medical Conditions
The NICE CKS service provides a readily accessible summary of the current evidence base and practical guidance on best practice in respect of over 330 common and/or significant primary care presentations.


Pubmed is good for research into medical conditions etc. 

Says our member Katie Khan, author of bestselling works Hold Back the Stars  (now being made into a movie) and The Light Between Us, "Google has an index of patents pending. So I searched the index for “spacesuit” and adapted what I found to write futuristic sci-fi."
Google Patents
Says Katie "For my time travel novel, I used the National Portrait Gallery online catalogue, Google street view, a few 3D tours of iconic locations such as Westminster Abbey. Oh, and the National Archives at Kew which has a massive online index too."
National Archives
Time Travel
Billed as "the ultimate guide to time travel, teleportation, temporal phasing, and other applications of nine-dimensional theory," this site takes itself seriously -- but does offer a wealth of information on time travel theory. 
Astronomy and the Solar System - A List of Resources
Access to more than 12 million academic journal articles, books and primary sources in 75 disciplines. You can sign up free.
Google Scholar
A simple way to broadly search for scholarly literature. From one place, you can search across many disciplines and sources: articles, theses, books, abstracts and court opinions, from academic publishers, professional societies, online repositories, universities and other web sites.

On This Day

A showcase of some of the most significant as well as some of the quirkier stories broadcast by BBC News since 1950 and now including a new World War II section. Nearly all the stories contain video or audio and are written as if the event had only just occurred, drawing on archive media, old newspapers and historical reference books.

Historical Thesaurus of the OED
With 800,000 words and meanings, in 235,000 entry categories, the thesaurus offers a complete sense inventory for English—from Old English to the present day, the Historical Thesaurus of the OED is a unique resource charting the semantic development of the huge and varied vocabulary of English. I love this one, as it gives a wealth of alternatives for words suitable to your era. Subscription based, not cheap at £90 a year but divine!
British Newspaper Archives

The British Library's collection of historical newspapers is one of the wonders of the world: it contains newspapers from 1603 to the present day, from both Britain and further afield. There are over 600,000 bound volumes of newspapers (occupying 32 kilometres, or 20 miles, of shelving) and over 300,000 reels of microfilm (occupying a further 13 kilometres, or 8 miles, of shelving). Until now, the only way to view these newspapers was to visit the British Library, and, of course, it was not possible to search them. The British Newspaper Archive is a partnership with the British Library to begin digitising this huge collection and make it available on the internet so researchers from all over the world can access the treasures within it. Launched in 2011, the team has now scanned millions of pages of historical newspapers and made them available online. You can now search hundreds of millions of stories by keyword, name, location, date or title and watch your results appear in an instant. 31,591,096 pages dating from the 1700s. From £6.67 a month.


Oral History websites

A wonderful resource mentioned by our member author Lilly Rosetta Jones. There are links to most of them here


Old London Town

Locating London

Allows you to search a wide body of digital resources relating to early modern and eighteenth-century London.


London Lives

A fully searchable edition of 240,000 manuscripts from  1690-1800 eight archives and fifteen datasets, giving access to 3.35 million names.


Romantic London 

A research project exploring life and culture in London around the turn of the nineteenth century.


Our author Cate Guthleben says 'This is a site I stumbled across. I haven't used it, but I had to save it. There are links to Late 18C and early 19C maps of London showing individual properties as well as the streetscape.'


Check out the guide to Antiquities of London too and a street view of London from 1838-1840 here:


Yes, you too can write like Dickens!

Tracing London Convicts in Britain & Australia, 1780-1925

This website allows you to search millions of records from around fifty datasets, relating to the lives of 90,000 convicts from the Old Bailey. 


Connected Histories

A range of digital resources related to early modern and nineteenth century Britain with a single federated search that allows sophisticated searching of names, places and dates. 


The Gutenberg Project

Offers over 58,000 free eBooks. Choose among free epub and Kindle eBooks, download them or read them online. You will find the world's great literature here, with focus on older works for which U.S. copyright has expired. Thousands of volunteers digitized and diligently proofread the eBooks, for enjoyment and education. Everything from Project Gutenberg is gratis, libre, and completely without cost to readers."Re. Gutenberg. As an example, you can access Harpers New Monthly Magazine from 1850 onwards, or, say, Blackwoods Edinburgh Magazine from 1843 or The London Medical Gazette from 1828, and read them for free, online, in a variety of ways including using the Kindle App. 



Prelinger holds "approximately 11,000 digitized and videotape titles (all originally derived from film) and a large collection of home movies, amateur and industrial films acquired since 2002. Its primary collection emphasis has turned toward home movies and amateur films, with approximately 12,000 items held as of Spring 2015. Its goal remains to collect, preserve, and facilitate access to films of historic significance that haven't been collected elsewhere. Included are films produced by and for many hundreds of important US corporations, nonprofit organizations, trade associations, community and interest groups, and educational institutions."



An Etiquette Encyclopedia and Etiquette History Blog. For the customs and mores of an era, this is a wonderful site.


Victorian Era Reference and Old Money

Kate Tattersall's fabulous site needs a mention!


The Social Scene from the Victorian Era to the Jazz Age:

Walter Nelosn's site is a treasure trove.

Victorian Era Clothing


Medieval Underpants and Other Blunders

A Writer’s (& Editor’s) Guide to Keeping Historical Fiction Free of Common Anachronisms, Errors, & Myths 

Cant - A Gentleman's Guide to the Language of Rogues in Georgian London

The Trevor Yorke series of books explains households and homes throughout the ages.

Medieval Cuisine is served up here.

Food Timeline

"Ever wonder how the ancient Romans fed their armies? Who invented the potato chip...and why? Food history presents a fascinating buffet of popular lore and contradictory facts."


Fight Scenes - ARMA

"ARMA endeavours to approximate historical fighting skills through a curriculum of reconstructed techniques, principles, and methods for using a variety of swords, spears, shields, staff weapons, daggers, and unarmed grappling and wrestling skills as taught in numerous surviving books and manuscripts."


Names of Yore


Masterpieces of Art



Down Under
The next few sites are Australian specific as one or two of our members are setting their period pieces there.
A free website of Australian and online resources including books, images, historic newspapers and maps. You can refine your search by date and title.
The National Archives of Australia http://www.naa.gov.au/
Easy to search records of every day Australians. Digitalised copies of the actual documents are easy to order if they're not already online. Great for family history research. (Our writer Cate Guthleben found the certificate of her great-grandfather's naturalisation as South Australian there.) Also for war service records. If anyone has an Australian soldier as a character, they can find all the details here.
The Australian War Memorial https://www.awm.gov.au/
Also useful for researching wars, particularly as many UK WWI records were destroyed in WWII. It has digitised copies of all the Australian Unit Diaries.
Say Cate "You can get lost for hours reading official reports of daily activities, and looking at the beautiful hand drawn, hand coloured maps of the front line. You can even find out what the weather was like."

A Book of Creatures


Magical Cuisine




Sacred Texts




Encyclopedia Mythica


Fairy Tales

SurLaLune Fairy Tales features 49 annotated fairy tales, including their histories, similar tales across cultures, modern interpretations and over 1,500 illustrations. Discover over 1,600 folktales & fairy tales from around the world in more than 40 full-text books.


Folklore and Mythology Electronic Texts


It's really important to go deep, intimate and truthful in literary fiction so you'll want to help the reader hear those conversations, and allow for moments of mystery.

To get a flavour of how conversations happen, I like:

The Listening Project

The Listening Project is an audio archive of conversations recorded by the BBC. People are invited to share an intimate conversation with a close friend or relative, to be recorded and broadcast (in edited form) by the BBC and curated and archived in full by the British Library.


Omnibus editions are wonderfully inspiring.

Men on work, food and friendship! Here.

Youtube, of course, is a brilliant source of real-life footage for how things really go down!

Bible Reference

One or two of our members don't know the Bible by heart sadly, so they mentioned to me on the quiet that they refer to Bible Gateway. A searchable bible, with over 150 versions so you can find exactly the text you want. Great for religious illiterates as you can search by word or subject.

Good for titles Hemingway would have considered worthy.
The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows
If the popular genre of Up Lit depresses you, and Literary Fiction is purple to you, if not downright mauve, then indulge your misery without shame and find a few more to pluck the leaves of misery from here.
Ted Talks
Short of an idea? Got time? Head here.
  • The Connection between Brain Injuries and Crime. 50 to 80 percent of people in the criminal justice system in the US have had a traumatic brain injury. 
  • The Price of Shame.
  • What a Driverless World Could Look like.
  • The Clues to a Great Story...

Real Diaries

My most treasured treasure, so much so I hesitate to mention it for envy and fear of a run on them, but of course you can pilfer loose thinking material from handwritten diaries if you search for them on eBay here. (Not to mention letters and so on through the ages and worldwide in their Ephemera section.)

What's More.

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Happy writing!


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