How to Start Your Research Project
Knowing where and how to start your historical research
This type of research is all about talking to people from the pastand figuring out to whom you should talk in order to get a complete and accurate answer. Since most of us cant normally speak with ghosts and conversations in graveyards tend to be pretty one-sided, we talk to people from the past through the records that they leave behind.
Youll be a better detective if you understand the different types of records and the types of answers you areand arentlikely to find in them.
My Archives: What kinds of records do you produce?
Not all of the information about us gets saved. Some things, like birth certificates and some types of financial records, are saved because laws and other rules say they must be. Other things, like family photographs, get saved because people care about them and the memories they preserve. Archivists and librarians help determine what in their collections should be saved. And some things get preserved accidentally by people who never throw anything away! Do you know anyone like that?
How are Archives Different from Libraries?
Archives, though they also preserve information, have a slightly different focus in that they deal with original or unique items, rather than widely printed ones. Thus, items like a handwritten diary of a soldier, love letters from a husband to his wife, a tax collectors account book of taxpayers of a town, or a collection of parade photographs taken by a magazine photographer, all could be within an archives. Most archives have strict rules to ensure that the one-of-a-kind items in their care wont be accidentally written on, thrown away, damaged or misplaced. For if something should happen to one of these unique-items, it is gone forever. In addition, archives generally do not have large stacks of materials out for researchers to use like your local public libraries do. Therefore, researchers have materials brought to them by an archivist on duty, who obtains them from a closed-off area for protection. Its sort of like ordering a meal in a fine restaurant. Have you ever lost a unique item that you could never replace?
And where you might find answers at the
NJHS or another library.
For example, if your project was dealing with the demolition of a fire house in your town, you may want to look in the town hall for original town reports or building permits tied to the destruction of the building; the town or county historical society for original records of the fire company, showing where the company exists today and who decided to tear down the building; and The New Jersey Historical Society or the New Jersey State Archives for newspapers that documented the destruction of the building or histories of the town that may cover the destruction.
Of course, you can always ask an archivist or librarian for help if you need it, for they will know the best what resources are available where. Librarians are often the ones who know whether to refer you to the Friendship Fire Company Museum, the Woodbury Public Library, or the Gloucester County Historical Society, when the need arises. It is good to seek out their help.
What do you have at The New Jersey Historical Society
The Historical Societys museum collection is another way to find out about New Jersey's past. For information about furniture, paintings, sculpture, ceramics, clothing, household items, and other artifacts, look at the Museum Collections Page to find out more about these collections. To ask a question about research, reproduction, use, loan, and/or viewing of objects in the museum collections, please contact the Collections Manager at (973) 596-8500, ext. 230 or via e-mail.
After I have found these materials, how do I use
The New Jersey Historical Society