There is no way to stuff your story full of every piece of history you have uncovered. For one thing, you don't want to bore your reader. And you really only need enough to give the reader a sense of the era you are writing. You want to seamlessly immerse the reader into the setting, making them feel like they have gone back in time. Think of it like the tip of the iceberg. Only use a small percentage, using the larger percentage to anchor your view of the story, breathing into it real life.
So how do you go about all this research? I'm no expert, but I'll share what I know.
The library is an excellent resource. Not only can you checkout history books, you can peruse the children's section for illustrated books on your era of choice. Often these give an excellent overview and you can "see" the era in the illustrations. Don't forget the reference center!
Visit the town, city, or state you are writing about. Don't forget to visit a museum, historical sites, or institutions pertaining to your project.
The internet is such an easy way to research. I am amazed at the many sites I've unearthed that are full of just the information I need. Look at some of the sites I've found:
- Timelines of History: http://timelines.ws/
- HistoryBuff.com: http://www.historybuff.com/
- Time Capsule: http://www.dmarie.com/timecap/
- Google Earth: http://www.google.com/earth/index.html (to get a feel for the lay of the land)
- You Tube: http://www.youtube.com/ (to visit places you cannot go)
- Jane Austen's World: http://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/ (by far the most comprehensive site on the regency era I've seen)
- Wikipedia: http://www.wikipedia.org/
Organize your research according to categories: Food, Clothing, Transportation, Politics, Religion, Names, Medicene, Entertainment, etc. You can create a three-ring binder, or use programs like OneNote. (My personal favorite!) This can be stored for future reference for the next book in your series. You know you have several up your sleeve!
What is your favorite way to research? Do you have a special book or site you turn to most?