Digging Deep: How to find what you're looking for

By The History Detectives Team
22 June 2009
Category: DIY Investigations

When starting a historical investigation you need to begin with the basics - good, solid research.

While many find this a daunting and laborious task, the research process can be as fascinating as solving a murder mystery.

“I find historical research very interesting,” says guest detective Eduardo Pagan, “because you never know where it’s going to take you once you start down that path”.

But where do you start?

First you need to figure out where to go to find the material you need.

A great place to begin is the wonderful world wide web. Typing a variety of phrases into a search engine can reveal information and experts in the field you are researching. Pay attention to the source - generally government, academic institutions and newspapers are credible places to find information. Be wary of sources such as Wikipedia and private websites, though these can be used to find information that can be cross referenced in other locations. Search engines like Google allow you to search books and scholarly papers as well.

Libraries are a great place to learn more about your topic. Do a search for books on your topic area and read as much as you can. Take careful notes and reference them so you know where to find them later on. Pay particular attention to the footnotes and sources used in books - they can give clues as to where you can find further information.

Archives are another treasure trove of material and are indispensible to the History Detectives. This is where you’ll find mainly primary sources that can further inform the research you are doing. This is often where you’ll find hidden details or information that can transform your investigation.

When doing research, size up the quality of information, and cross-examine your sources. Did the author have a hidden motive? Where are the holes in the story? Is it really evidence, or just a red herring?

Have you done your own historical investigation? Tell us about it. What were your best sources of information in your research? Do you have a research tip you want to share? Let us know by using the form below.

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