Dating home > Research Methods

Research Methods

If you would like to find more specific information on the features of historical events in your image, libraries and historical societies offer a wide range of resources. The information below may help guide your search.

History Books

Local libraries and historical societies typically carry state, county, and local history books. These sources may contain specific information on the dates of construction of important buildings, timelines of events, trends in industry and agriculture, listings of local businesses, and important historical figures. For example: If a marble quarry is present in your image, it may be helpful to gather information on the evolution of the marble industry in that town.

City Directories

For specific information on dates of construction, city directories can be very helpful. The directories were typically issued every year for a specific town or city and contain the house or business address plus the name of residents or business owners. If you know the address of the house in your image or the name of a business, search through the directories to find the first date that address of business name appears. That is most likely the date of construction of that building. Many libraries carry city directories, but they are generally only available for cities and larger towns in Vermont. The University of Vermont Special Collections of the Bailey/Howe Library carries a large collection of city directories, including 150 years of Burlington and Winooski.

Newspaper Clippings

For any notable historical event or major storm, newspaper archives can be helpful. Many libraries carry back issues of local newspapers that can be searched in a card catalogue. If anything appears in your image that seems newsworthy, such as a large fire, a parade of an important figure or event, or a blizzard, check the local papers and see if it was recorded.

Annual Reports

Although it can be time consuming, town or city annual reports can be helpful in determining the dates of such things as road construction projects, installation of street lights, sidewalk paving, or the planning of a new park. Many libraries carry these reports.

National Register and State Register

Many historic buildings in Vermont have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places - a national database of historic buildings. And an even larger number of historic buildings have been placed on the State Register (also called Historic sites and Structures Surveys). These reports typically include an accurate date of construction, and many also carry information on additions and alterations to these historic buildings. Many libraries carry these documents. Special Collections at the University of Vermont Bailey/Howe Library carries a large collection.

Field Research

Nothing is more enjoyable than finding the location of an historic image and seeing how things have changed. And this can be very helpful in narrowing the date of your image. If you discover a building in your image has been torn down, it may be possible to find out when that building was lost using some of the research methods discussed on this page. If new features appear that are not present in your historic image, you can determine the date of those features by using the dating tools on this website or your own research. For example, if you find a building that was built in the 1890s but is not present in your image, than you know your image is older than the 1890s. This method is useful for any type of feature.

Cemeteries in particular can be excellent spots for field research. If you have a cemetery in your image, take your photograph out to the cemetery and determine which gravestones are not yet present in your image. What is the oldest date? Your image would be older than that date.

Photo Comparisons

Like field research, photo comparisons can be extremely helpful in dating an image. The Landscape Change Program database is filled with thousands of historic images. Maybe the location of your image appears in another image from a different date. Compare the two to figure out what has changed.


A number of historic maps are available for Vermont's towns and cities, and many libraries carry at least local maps. Learn more about map research.

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