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Research Resources and Repositories

Above: Plat and lot records. Below: City directory. Providence Archives, Rhode Island.

Research Resources and Process
• Historical Surveys and Listings

Historical Research

Primary historical research of an old building generally encompasses written, visual and oral resources that can provide valuable site-specific information. Written resources usually include letters, legal transactions, account books, insurance policies, institutional papers, and diaries. Visual resources consist of drawings, maps, plats, paintings and photographs. Oral resources are people's remembrances of the past. Secondary resources, comprised of research or history already compiled and written about a subject, are also important for providing a broad contextual setting for a project.

Historical research should be conducted well in advance of physical investigation. This allows time for important written, visual, and oral information to be located, transcribed, organized, studied and used for planning the actual work.

A thorough scholarly study of a building's history provides a responsible framework for the physical investigation; in fact, the importance of the link between written historical research and structural investigation cannot be overestimated.

For example, the historical research of a building through deed records may merely determine the sequence of owners. This, in turn, aids the investigation of the building by establishing a chronology and identifying the changes each occupant made to the building. A letter may indicate that an occupant painted the building in a certain year; the courthouse files contain the occupant's name; paint analysis of the building will yield the actual color. Two-dimensional documentary research and three-dimensional physical investigation go hand-in-hand in analyzing historic structures. The quality and success of any restoration project is founded upon the initial research.