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
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.