Research Lab (45 minutes)

How do you generally start your research process?

Does your topic generally describe:

* A specific person or group of people, such as a family or business partners?
* A larger group of people, such as people united by ethnic background, religion, economic or social status, occupation or political belief?
* A place, a park, building, street, or neighborhood?
* An organization—a church, political or social club, business or proprietorship, reform organization, or charity?
* A specific event or occurrence that changed life for the people in the Village?
* A story of change over time that traces slower moving trends?

As you conduct your research start building lists of things to search for— people, organizations, places, maps, anything that you come across. Search databases broadly to get the best sense that you can of the lay of the land—this will help you narrow your focus based on what you can get and what interests you.

  • Be as specific as possible — if you discuss specific people, learn as much as you can about them and provide details — birth and death dates, nationalities, occupations, religion if possible.
    • Use census records and Social Security Death Index to try to identify names you come across (via Ancestry database and other sources).
    • Use historical newspapers, Google Books, historic designation reports, genealogical sources, to try to obtain names of people when they are lacking. (ex. you can find out who lived at a specific address by searching the census, city directories, etc.)
    • Search for the names of husbands when you are looking for women — often they are only mentioned as "Mrs. John Smith"
    • Look at obituaries, wedding announcements and other types of sources to find names of family members (including copyright holders), relationships between people.
    • When you are trying to find out about a place, search for the specific address in historical newspapers, also search for the street name to learn more about the neighborhood.
    • Consult the GVSHP's designation reports if you are interested in a building that is in the historic districts. In some cases you can learn the people who owned it, built and designed it, and what it was used for. Newer reports are fuller.
    • Need an image of a building? Don't forget the NYC Municipal Archive Tax photos, 1939-40 and 1980. These will cost you $35-$45, and take 3-5 weeks—so hurry!
    • Consider conducting oral history interviews as part of your story. If people still remember the events, people, places and organizations, their stories can become part of the historical record.

Using EverNote, start to build your research questions. Use notes to start making to-do lists, clip information, and organize your thoughts. Use categories to organize things as best you can.

  1. State the topic as you see it now.
  2. Is the topic constrained by dates at this point? (if a group, when did it arrive in the Village, birth-death dates of people, when organizations were founded, changed, or disbanded)
  3. Are there specific people or families associated with the topic? Write down as many of their names as you can.
  4. Are there specific organizations, occupations, ethnic or political groups associated with your topic? Write them down, adding their relationship with the topic if you can.
  5. Is there a place, or places in the Village associated with your topic? If a neighborhood, list all the streets, if one or more specific houses, list those.
  6. Are there secondary sources on your topic? Make lists of the books you know of, search Bobst, WorldCat, Google books for more. You may not read all of them, but get a sense of what is out there and how much primary research you'll need to do.
  7. Is the basic story well told, commonly understood? Is there a Wikipedia page for it? Is there more that you can tell, a different interpretation, or complication of the known narrative?
  8. Are there primary source materials available to you on the topic? Have you searched archival databases, contacted the organization if it still exists, visited the location where the event happened?
  9. Are any of the people involved in the topic still alive? Can you locate them?
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