Researching Tip for Today’s Historian



Hi Everybody,
Just passing along a research tip I learned the hard way. The fact is, the art and craft of “research” can be as slow as congealed molasses in the wintertime. However, I’ve found it’s not how slowly your research progresses, but what you do with the microscopic bits of information you are fortunate enough to find.

Let me use my own book as an example. When I began writing African Americans of Chattanooga, my only reference was a brief book written by African American librarian J. Bliss White in 1904, and a booklet called, Precious Memories, by the Chattanooga African American History Museum. In all the years since the city of Chattanooga came into existence, these were the only “African American” treatments; nothing else had been done.

With no other starting point, I visited the downtown library and looked up everything I could find on Chattanooga History. Many early Chattanooga history books completely ignored African American presence, but a few made mention of early African American personalities, like “Yellow Bill” and “Uncle Bill” Lewis.

Once I found books that mentioned African Americans, I immediately thumbed forward to the bibliography in the back to see where the information had come from. Then I photocopied the information and went right back to the shelves to pull the books listed in the bibliography.

Sooner or later, the bibliographies always listed a newspaper article or two from long ago. So I photocopied this bibliography, too, then pulled the newspaper articles up on microfiche. These old article always yielded wonderful information, like original birthplaces, kinfolks and the like.

So here are my tips:

1. Start your historical research with a broad search.
2. When you find a book with great information, photocopy the bibliography so you can find the books the info came from. SPECIAL NOTE: Be sure to jot down the title, author and publisher of the bibliography/book, because if you don’t, you’ll quickly forget where all this precious information came from.
3. Find the very, very old books in the bibliography, and be sure to pull these. Mosttimes, they will be housed in special collections or non-circulatory collections. That’s okay; you’re still allowed to see the books, as long as you don’t try to sneak out of the library with them.
4. Photocopy bibliographies from the very old books. You never know what treasure awaits you!

Well, that’s all I have for now. I hope this researching tip helps.

Be sure to pick up your copy of African Americans of Chattanooga: A History of Unsung Heroes and and read about the wonderful history I discovered right here in Chattanooga. Just click on the icon to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to’s website, where you can make your purchase.

Best wishes and happy researching,

Rita Lorraine

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