Thursday, October 21, 2010
Searching for a Dead Man
I know he lived. His tombstone stands among others of his family near the landfill. The report of his brutal murder appears in old newspapers. His corpse was found naked, with one sock on and one off. He had been bludgeoned on both sides of his head. The man inflicted violence on others all his life and died by violence. And he was supposedly the county sheriff in the mid-1800s.
Though the spelling of his name was a mystery to me for a long time, I finally managed to interview the right person who provided that: Robert Right Rae Sr.--not Wright Ray or Wray. But as for his holding the office of sheriff, I can find no evidence. I called the public library, the historical society, the Sheriff Department where he supposedly served more than a 150 years ago, and a local historical site, but to no avail. The Sheriff's office has on the wall a large poster that lists all sheriffs and their term years, but Rae is not listed, nor are there gaps in that record, according to the office staffer who looked. While he doesn't figure prominently in my work-in-progress, he is mentioned, so of course I want to be accurate.
What does a writer do when your research trail lands you flat up against a stone wall--a jail wall, at that? As I see it, I have two choices. I can keep searching for answers, squeezing in some time to travel to the location and pore over old newspapers for hours, or I can accept what I've gleaned from reliable sources and create a fictional character based on the elusive reality.
Brother and sister scribes, what would you do when faced with such a conundrum? Please leave a "Comment."