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Step 4: Decide if Archive Use is Appropriate

If after receiving a reply from the archivist, he or she has some suggestions of archival collectionsfor you to work with, you'll need to decide if these materials can actually help you. While the archivist will try to make good suggestions, it is ultimately your responsibility to determine if these resources will sufficiently suit your research.

Consider carefully and EVAULATE the sources suggested to you. Here are a few "tests" to consider:

Time and Place Test

Ask yourself if the records were created by people who were present at the events you are studying. It is much better, for example, when researching the Civil War to use letters written by, say, a solider between battles, then perhap, a reminiscence (a life story) written by that same solider 50 years later.


Complexity and Size

Just like books, archival collections can vary in complexity and length. Some archival collections consists of just a few letters in a single folder, others may consist of hundreds of boxes. Make sure the collection you choose is not too big. The archivist may be able to help narrow down a larger collection to just a few folders that relate directly to your project.

Keep in mind that people did not and usually do not create their records with researchers in mind. Primary sources are things that people wrote GOING ABOUT THEIR REGULAR BUSINESS. Because of this some, collections can be very complicated to read if you do not have the background knowledge of that indviduals activities.

Finally, many records prior to the mid-20th Century are written exclusively by hand and the handwriting may be different or fancier than what you are used to. Be prepared.


Ask for Help

Feel free to contact the archivist as you make your decision about the content he or she has suggested to you. In the end, you might need to visit the archives to really know how effective your sources will be, which leads to the next step:


Step 5: Plan a Trip to the Archives


1. Preliminary Research and Choose your Topic
2.Develop Research Question
3. Contact the Archivist
4. Decide if Archive Use is Appropriate
5. Plan a Trip to the Archives
6. Researching at the Archives