Even when writing fiction, research is vital and may involve reading relevant books or an internet search. If you use the latter strategy, be wary as not everything published online is legitimate or authentic. There are many sites out there that leave out pertinent facts or ignore them entirely. For example, information related to the U.S. Civil War is being heavily censored. You will run the risk of a bad review for missing or getting something wrong if you solely rely on what you find on the internet. Always double-check or even triple check your facts across multiple sites.
One way to find the correct information is to use the resources provided by the government. In the United States, the Freedom of Information Act is one such source. There is an online site that works for most agencies. You might find what you need in already released records. All you have to do is set up an account.
I highly recommend the U.S National Archive and Records Administration, NARA, as it has millions of online searchable records. If the records are unavailable online, you can file a request for them. This will take time as it has to be researched, and you will likely have to pay a fee. Depending on the information, that fee can range anywhere from a minimum fee of $20.00 to hundreds of dollars. The records here range from the military to presidents to anything to do with the history of the United States, including reproductions and microfilm. Be specific in your request and always use names and dates to ensure that what you obtain meets your needs. https://www.archives.gov
Going right to the source is another way to find records. For example, if you need something about the U.S. Navy, you should contact their FOIA department. The same goes for military bases, most of which have their own FOIA department. You can send a letter by either email or mail to the specific office.
The letters are relatively simple, and templates can be found online. You can also use the example provided below.
TO: Place and address you are sending the FOIA or EMAIL TO: Use the email address provided if applicable
DON FOIA Public Liaison
Chief of Naval Operations (DNS-36)
2000 Navy Pentagon
Washington, D.C. 20350-2000
Dear FOIA Officer:
Under the Freedom of Information Act, I would like to obtain access to the following
records: [Insert a clear description of the documents you seek.]
For the purposes of assessing fees, I am making this request on behalf of [Insert one of these options that best describes your status. a. Myself, seeking this information for personal, not commercial use. b. A company/business to use for commercial purposes. c. A representative of the news media, to use for news gathering, not for commercial purposes. d. An affiliated educational or non-commercial scientific institution, and not for commercial use.
I am willing to pay up to $[insert amount] for the response to this request. If you determine the fees may exceed that amount, please contact me first.
Your Full Name
Name of Company (if applicable)
Street / Mailing Address
City, State, ZIP Code
My final bit of advice is to think outside the box. You can find pieces of needed information in the most unlikely of places.
The NARA and FOIA Online logos are taken from their websites. The picture of the soldiers on a troop ship during the Occupation of Germany is by U.S. Army Cpl. Max Ferguson, my uncle. The rights belong to the family. The think outside the box photo was obtained from https://alrasub.com/.
About The Author:
After a successful career in law enforcement as a field officer, explosives detection K-9 handler, and fatality traffic investigator, Angel Giacomo gravitated into writing. She has a degree in Political Science and History. A big believer in helping veterans, Angel supports a number of veteran’s organizations. Her first book, a military thriller, The Jackson MacKenzie Chronicles: In the Eye of the Storm was published in 2020.