Conducting Historical Research Online

Created for Historic Preservation Students. This guide is meant to be a comprehensive, but by no means is a complete listing of resources available online for historical research.

Thinking through your research

  • Questions to ask: What am I interested in finding? Who might have created the materials I’m looking for? When might they have created them? Where would those materials have been created, Why, and for Whom?
  • Think about the variety of document types that exist in archives (manuscripts, correspondence, diaries, photographs, audiovisual materials, computer files, scrapbooks, meeting minutes, reports, data sets, etc.) and ask yourself how various document types might factor into your research and analysis.
  • When deciding if an archival collection applies to your research inquiries, review inventories, finding aids, or collection lists. After you have done that you may still have questions, that is the time to talk to an archivist.


*Thank you to Shannon O'Neill from Special Collections and Archives at Barnard College for allowing us to use some of their awesome information. 

Where to start looking

Remember that there is a lot in a name. You may find the historical records you are looking for in an archive, a library, a special collection, a court house, a county historical society, or a museum. The important thing is to be able to articulate what you are looking for so that when you make contact with someone at that institution they can help you find what you are looking for.

Things to remember

Most primary source materials can not be removed from the reading/research room. You will not be able to check out materials. 

Ask in advance if digital copies of materials are available. 

Ask in advance about photocopying services or if digital photography is allowed. This will allow you to be better prepared when you are finally able to schedule time to visit a repository.