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MONT 199N-S12: The Nature of Worcester: Green Island (Luria)

Spring 2024

Successful Searching

What Do You Need? 

Consider a variety of sources and ways to get to them -- what kind of information might exist to answer your question? Where might that information 'live'? 

Who do you want to hear from? 

This could be...

  • a perspective (ex. - anti-gentrification)
  • a category of people (ex - immigrants, people of color, government officials)
  • a specific group or organization
  • etc. 

or some combination of the above! 

Remember: not all perspectives are always represented equally! 

...And where are they? 

Next, figure out where you might "hear" these voices. For example -- 

  • Individual Worcester residents might make themselves heard in newspapers/bulletins, interviews with media, personal memoirs,...
  • The perspectives  and research of organizations may be found in the sources above, or through reports and other information published through their websites (or in other places).  If the organization is active in the legal system, you might also find court cases. 
  • Politicians' perspectives could show up in places such as public addresses; official city documents, or in newspapers, among others. 
  • etc. 

Choose a Tool 

Each page of this guide is organized by types of information you might be looking for. We've compiled lots of suggestions to help you start searching. But, you can always ask Joanna, Laura or Prof. Luria for suggestions! 

Make sure that the tool you choose matches what you need

For example, if you are hoping to find news reports on the 1955 Flood in Worcester, you need a place that...

  1. Provides access to newspapers;
  2. Includes papers published in MA, preferably Worcester or as close to it as possible; AND 
  3. Goes back to at least 1955. 


  • Keep your searches simple, and be creative with your search terms. Don’t just look for your specific address. What about the street name, the neighborhood name, organizations or people? (Nouns make good search terms -- specific people, places, things)
  • Try not to 'know' what you’re looking for or laser-focus on something really specific. You want to discover what the sources haveto tell you! And, it can be hard to predict how the information you need will show up in actual documents. Similarly, 
  • "Brick walls" are very normal. When you hit one, don't panic -- just pivot and try the next thing. Ask yourself where else this information (or "close enough" information) might live. 
  • Remember that life isn't static. People move out of town or sell their property; businesses and streets can be renamed; addresses can be renumbered.  Change happens! 
  • Pace yourself! Make sure that you leave time to BROWSE (see below). Keyword searching for these kinds of sources can be imprecise, especially if you don't know exactly what you're looking for. Give yourself time to click in and out of sources you're unsure of, browse through the pages, and look at the context of sources like newspaper articles (what other stories appeared on the same day? what advertisements?) for maximum information.

A note on BROWSING: 

Some research tools for will lend themselves easily to precise searching; many do not.  Commit to taking plenty of time with your sources and browsing through lists of results, even if what you're looking for doesn't rise immediately to the top. It may appear further down, or there may be other clues in your result that can help you correct your search in the right direction. Likewise, what you are looking for may be present but not immediately apparent -- that blurb about the shop you're researching, for instance, could be buried at the bottom of a vaguely-titled newspaper article covering many pieces of local news. 

Because the phrasing (and digital scanning) of historical records is so variable, it's often more effective to keep your search simple, sort by date order, and let your own eyes take you the rest of the way! 

Advanced Search Strategies

Key Takeaways: 
  • Use quotation marks " " to search for a specific phrase

  • Use the minus symbol - to exclude a word from your search results (-canal means NOT canal)

  • Use a Google Site Search to check a specific website or type of website: 

    • site:*.gov Worcester flooding will search for references to Worcester flooding across US government websites. 

    • site:* Worcester flooding will search the same but on only. 

    • site:*.org Worcester flooding searching  .org (non-profit) websites, which will hit many libraries, museums and other cultural heritage institutions (as well as some advocacy organizations, so read critically for bias);

    • site:*.edu Worcester flooding will conduct the search across (U.S.) educational websites. 

Digest Your Findings

  • Read carefully. Be prepared to read between the lines of your sources -- they usually won't tell you what you should learn from them. 
  • Read criticallyRemember that the information in historical documents/newspapers/etc. may not always be 100% correct. Likewise, search tools may not always read documents correctly (see Accounting for Errors below). 
  • Take good notes -- on what you've found, AND what you haven't found.

Research Log Template 
* Save a copy to your own Google Drive! 


Many historical sources, especially census records, birth/death records, etc. where the information was self-reported, have errors or inconsistencies in them. The person providing the information may not have known the correct details, or the person taking down the information may have misheard or misunderstood them. Our job is to do our best to reconcile as much as information as we are able to find, to attempt to reconstruct an accurate picture of the place or scenario we are researching. 

Additionally, we have to account for the wonder of computers! Even if a name was spelled correctly on the original record, the process that made it keyword searchable by computer, may have transferred that information incorrectly. So when searching for names -- whether of people, streets, or businesses -- try spelling variants, and be open to checking any records that are not-quite-right but could still be the thing you're looking for. 

Fact Checking and Evaluating Sources

Lateral Reading

Look for other sources that either support or challenge the information in the one you're looking at. This is also called lateral reading - a process where you look for the same information across multiple sources to come to a consensus of what is accurate. Finding better coverage might mean looking for another publisher, writer, or media outlet that is also covering the same issue. Look for information in sources you know are trustworthy.

The video below demonstrates how to use lateral reading to evaluate sources.

Trace Claims, Quotes, and Media to the Original Source

News and information shared on social media can sometimes lack context. Sometimes this is an unfortunate side effect of the platform - if someone only has 240 characters to get their point across, they aren't able to include the same level of context as they would if they were writing a news article. Sometimes it's intentional - people leave out important details or context to try and influence people to think a certain way.

When you're evaluating a social media post, think about what context you need. If you see a quote, can you find who it is attributed to or where it was taken from? Sometimes posters will manipulate or change quotes because they assume people won't take the extra time to find the original. If you're looking at a video or photo, is there an original version that provides a caption or more information? Look for the original context to assess whether the source you're looking at is showing things out of context to fit a certain narrative.

Six Questions for Evaluating Sources

When you're looking at a source and deciding if it's right for your research, ask yourself the six questions: Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How.


Who is the author?

Look for more information about the author. Find out their qualifications and experience to determine if they are a credible expert on the topic. Be wary of sources where you cannot identify an author or creator.


What type of source is it?

Think about what type of source you're looking at - is it a research paper? An entertainment piece? An opinion essay? Consider if it is scholarly or popular and what the format tells you about the source. 

When was it published?

Consider how recent and/or timely the information is and how recent you need information to be for your topic. In some subjects, new information develops very quickly and sources that are more than a few years old may already be outdated. In other subjects, information may move more slowly.


Where did you find the source?

Look at where the source was published or shared. See what you can find out about the publisher and their editorial process (Is it peer reviewed? Edited by one general editor? Not edited at all?). Be on the lookout for conflicts of interest and potential bias in publishing. Consider if it is a scholarly publisher, a government source, an educational institution, or an informal source like a blog.


Why was this written and published?

Think about the purpose of the source and what it is trying to accomplish. Is the source trying to inform you of new information? Is it trying to persuade you to do something or to have a certain point of view? Is it an ad trying to sell you something? Is it entertainment?


How did the author/creator find their information?                                                                                  

If the source is an original research study, look at the methods and conclusions to learn about how the study was conducted and what they learned from it. If the author cites their sources, see if you can find the original source to verify the information.

Be cautious using sources that do not contain citations or do not show how they got their information.

Working with Primary Sources

Primary Sources

primary source is a first-hand witness to a historical event or period, created at that point in history. This can include articles, interviews, photographs, memoirs, correspondence, diaries, government documents, and more. Primary sources can give valuable insight into what was happening at a specific point in history as it happened, rather than looking at it through a present day lens.

You can find detailed information about finding and using primary sources in our Primary Source Guide.

Search Tips

  • Start your research early. Primary sources can be hard to find and may take more time and effort to read and analyze. Give yourself time to browse, read, interpret, and evaluate what you find. You may need to conduct more searches than you are used to in order to narrow down the right terms.
  • Think about your search terms. Since the sources you're looking for weren't published in modern times, they likely won't use modern language. You may need to change your search terms to reflect the language of the time. For example, you might find some historic publications use the spelling "pyrates" instead of "pirates." 
  • Keep it simple! Search terms like names are more likely to bring back results than terms that refer to concepts. Start with a simple search and use database filters to narrow down your results.
  • Get to know your database. Look at how search results are sorted, what filters are available, and what the database provides access to. Try using a few different databases and see what different things you find. You can often browse or filter results by publication date and geographic location.
  • Give yourself context. Primary sources exist in the context of their time. When you find primary sources, look at the entire publication, not just the section that's relevant to your research. This will give you an idea of what else was happening at the time.
  • Don't panic, be patient, and ask a librarian for help if you need it!

Analyzing Primary Sources