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Researching Local History...?

Step 1.... Before you begin, ask yourself these questions.
Step 2.... Talk to Library staff at the Information Desk.
Step 3.... Consult the online catalogue to locate books, magazines and videos about your topic.
Step 4.... Check Primary Sources.
Step 5.... Check Secondary Sources.
Step 6.... Evaluate your sources.
Step 7.... Search Web Sites.
Step 8.... If you need research material held in other institutions across Canada.
Step 9.... Network with Other Historians.
Step 10.. If you publish your local history, please let us know.

 

Step 1.....Before you begin, ask yourself these questions.

Researching local history is a challenging undertaking. Many of the traditional sources, such as encyclopedias and history books, fail to provide the information you need. Before starting your project, ask yourself a lot of questions using the famous five “W”s: Who ? What? Where? When? Why? And sometimes even How?

For example:

Who is this person?
What happened before, during and after this person or event?
Where did this person live or where did the event take place?
When did this person live or when did the event take place?
Why did this person do what he/she did, or why did the event take place?
How did this person achieve their goals, or how did this event happen.?

By asking yourself these types of questions, you will begin to identify gaps in information. Write down all your questions and gaps in a research log. You can use it to help identify your information needs while talking to Library staff.

Step 2.....Talk to Library staff at the Information Desk.

One of your best research tools is the Library staff at the Information Desk. Tell them about your project. Ask if there are any unique local sources, such as maps, government documents, or newspaper clippings that will provide new insights into your research. Staff will also suggest research strategies that will save you time and frustration. While researching, be sure to record all bibliographic information and call numbers, in case you need to use these resources again.

You can call ahead to your local branch or email us at Ask a Librarian.

Step 3.....Consult the online catalogue to locate books, magazines and videos about your topic.

Consult the online catalogue to locate books, magazines and videos about your topic. Use the name of the person, the community, the subject or the event to get a sampling of titles:

For example:

Howe, Joseph
Sheet Harbour
Transportation-Nova Scotia
Halifax Explosion

If you are unsuccessful in locating titles using your chosen keywords, try a broader subject heading.

For example:

If your topic is on the Dominion Atlantic Railway, try keywords like “Railway-Nova Scotia” or “Transportation-Nova Scotia” to capture titles that are broader in interest. Likewise, if the catalogue results are too broad, try narrowing your keywords to “Dominion Railway and Halifax”.

Consult the Collections overview for ideas and suggestions.

Step 4.....Check Primary Sources.

Primary sources - records or data of people and events as they occur- can provide unique contemporary viewpoints. Look at indexes/transcripts of government records, published diaries, speeches, memoirs, correspondences, maps, newspaper reports, legislative assembly debates and city council minutes to track the events or issues as they unfold. Ask staff to help you locate primary sources in other archives, museums and university libraries.

Consult the Collections overview for ideas and suggestions.

Step 5.....Check Secondary Sources.

Secondary sources, published studies of primary records or data, are usually the first types of resources to check when beginning a new research project. Encyclopedias are a great place to start, while more in-depth histories and biographies provide critical details for analysis. Most books and encyclopedias also include a bibliography for further reading.

Consult the Collections overview for ideas and suggestions.

Step 6.....Evaluate your sources.

Evaluate your sources for accuracy and reliability. Was it written at the time of the event, or many years afterwards? Does the author cite his/her own sources.? Does it have a bibliography? Is the author an expert in the field? Are there other sources with information that conflicts with your own? Have you read a number of different books on the same topic for consistency? Is the information now out of date and inaccurate? These questions will help you determine if you need to pursue more contemporary or alternative sources.

Step 7.....Search Websites.

Visit your local branch to use one of our many public computers to search Web sites dedicated to local history. Be sure to ask the same critical questions listed in Step six when evaluating Web site sources.

Consult our list of recommended Helpful Links.

Step 8.....If you need research material held in other institutions across Canada.

If you need research material held in other institutions across Canada, inquire about the Halifax Public Libraries Interlibrary Loan service. Books may be borrowed for a limited number of days. Magazine or journal articles may be photocopied for a nominal fee. Ask at the Information Desk for more information.

Step 9.....Network with Other Historians.

Contact other research libraries, local historical societies and other institutions for collection holdings, public programming or research guidance.

Step 10.....If you publish your local history, please let us know.

The Halifax Public Library may be interested in purchasing a copy for our readers.