PDF of the how to do research document can be downloaded here.
How research is done is to some extent a function of why you are doing it and who will be your audience after it is completed. For “Collecting Colorado” you will want to use mostly primary sources. Secondary sources can be used for historical context but should not be used for the key points of the text.
Primary data sources
Information collected, reported on or observed by an individual, contemporaneously with the events are primary sources. For example, primary sources for an event that took place in 1875 would be hardcopy resources covering the time frame 1875 to 1880. Oral histories reported by individuals who actually witnessed or participated in the events are true primary sources if reported soon after the event. But if the individual who had participated in or had witnessed the event did not document his information until decades after the events, such information due to memory degradation should be considered a quasi-primary source. Similarly, an oral history reported by individuals who had the actual events reported to them by the actual witnesses soon after the events are pseudo-primary sources. Newspaper accounts contemporaneous with the events but not written by the observer are quasi-primary data sources also. Quasi-primary data is superior to secondary sources, especially if other collaborative data supports the account.
Information collected, or reported on by an individual long after the events, who was not a participant or contemporary person of the events are secondary sources. Textbooks and review articles are secondary sources. These accounts if not documented by primary sources are extremely suspect as to accuracy.
When you come across a reference such as (Jones 1902) in Mr. Smith’s book written in 1948, Mr. Smith’s book is NOT a primary source for the referenced information, and it is important if the given information is to be of use in this book, to locate and read the Jones (1902) reference, even if you have seen Jones (1902) cited on numerous occasions.
Data collecting methods for primary sources break down into different time periods.
Data for the pre-1950 time period is mostly restricted to hardcopy sources. These include newspapers, books, journals, magazines articles, Colorado state archives (in Denver), county courthouse records, City directories, BLM claim records (on line or in person), BLM patent records (on line), US census reports, manuscripts, personal diaries, photographs, maps, physical objects, and scrapbooks. Some data of these types can also be found in libraries and county records.
Not all primary data sources have the same level of reliability. Oral histories are the most unreliable for dates but more reliable than many newspaper accounts which frequently do not report information correctly. Legal documents are more reliable than both oral histories and newspapers but are still subject to errors.
Multiple data sources used to describe an event need to be evaluated for internal consistency. Thus if a newspaper report contradicts land title records, those that are inconsistent should be suspected for being wrong. Similarly, information needs to be evaluated for whether it is physically possible for it to be true. Oral histories from different persons who were participants to the same event are especially useful for weeding out erroneous or omitted information.
Data for the 1950 to 1990 events
Data for the 1950 to 1990 includes the same sources for pre-1950 but also includes written or internet interviews with living persons who may remember those events.
Data for post-1990 events
Primary data for post-1990 events includes all the sources of both the pre-1950 and 1950-1990 but with the addition of digital, online sources that have never been documented as hardcopy information. This includes Facebook pictures and online comments, press releases, TV station online reports, and website discussion groups.
The reliability of such internet information though is radically challenged since much of it many not actually be primary data but hearsay from non-participants. Checking and evaluating this data for accuracy may be difficult but again legal documents in county records would have a higher reliability as would interviews with the participants of the event. Again, multiple sources for the same event allows for evaluating reliability and accuracy and correcting simple errors which typically are dates of events and who else were involved in the event.
Primary data does not include Wikipedia and other online “encyclopedias.” These sources are useful for general information and possibly locating primary sources. Secondary sources such as textbooks and mineral books such as “Minerals of Colorado” are also useful for helping lead to primary materials.
Names of people should be fully written out the first time they are used in an article as Tom Henry Smith and not T. H. Smith or Mr. Smith unless that is the only information known. Locating the full name of historical individuals may be a challenge but can be done successfully. Do not rely on the spelling of a name based on its oral sound. Try to located published records for names and where possible multiple documents. For example, Coplen, Kopelen and Copeland, will all orally sound the same but have very different consequences when searching records.
Online, searchable newspapers sources are available at genealogybank.com (fee), newspapers.com (fee), newspaperarchive.com (fee), chroniclingamerica.loc.gov (free), coloradohistoricnewspapers.org (free), ancestry.com (fee at home, free at a library) and search.ancestry.com (free).
Most Colorado newspapers are not available online and are not searchable; thus newspapers must be manually searched on microfilm. Microfilms of Colorado newspapers can usually be found in the public library of the town where the paper was published or at the Colorado Historical Society library in Denver.
Other great sources of primary information are mineral club and society newsletters for contemporary events. Summary articles of historic events in newsletters are not primary sources and have the same accuracy concerns common to secondary sources.