Research is a vital piece of any successful hunt, and follow-up research can be used to enhance your newly found items. Isn’t it great to dig up the history related to an interesting item or site?
I get asked by fellow metal detector friends, “How do you find your areas?” I believe that research is a multi-point system. There doesn’t exist a single point where all of you knowledge comes from. No matter what, your single point will “dead-end” and you will be left holding only a single piece of the puzzle.
I live in Montana, so our historic depth is much more shallow that someone living in Eastern United States or Europe. I like to break down timelines into zones. I look at the oldest time period being between the dates of 1860-1890 for my state. My second zone, which is my favorite, is 1891 – 1920. And the final zone is 1921 – 1964.
Each one of these zones can provide important slots in my local history, and they all have specific “hot” spots related in their zones. This is where I like to start.
The next step I like to take is to determine if I’m going to focus on coinshooting or relic hunting, or both. This is important to determine what type of sites to look for. When I decide to pursue coinshooting, I look towards recreational areas with somewhat heavy traffic. If I decide to look for relic hunting spots, then I like for anything in the outdoors that matches my time line. If it’s both, which is rare, I would look for ghost towns or vanished communities or camps.
To start my “actual” research, I have a loose goal or zone and type discussed earlier. I’m interested in a site where I can relic hunt and coinshoot. I’m also looking for a site that is between dates of 1891-1920.
I head to my local library and immediately go to the newspaper archives. If I’m lucky, they’ll have the actual paper archives, but the micro film will work fine. I want to find a community, ranch complex, or a camp of some sort. These places will give me the best chance for coins and relics.
For this example, I came across a settlement that was on a river and died around 1900. An article in the newspaper gave the name of the community and a rough location. Since, I’m really researching this particular site, I will not give up the name or the location.
With the name in hand, I’m going to see if a past historian might have done the hard work for me, by locating the site and providing a more accurate location on a modern map. This is where I start to look for historical books for that region. In my experience there have been a surge of these types of books in the last ten years or so. They make great coffee table books, and I buy them every time I see one.
I located a book that talks about my area and it did in fact provide some very useful clues. I believe I have it narrowed down to a 50 square mile area. Obviously, this is too large, and I need to get it tightened down further. This is where some nice technology comes in.
Google Maps is a fantastic tool to get an aerial view of an area. Depending on the environment, you might be able to see some landmarks or even structures.
This community was on the banks of a river and was a small railroad stop. This area has only a road bridge, and no obvious railroad signs can be found, but Google Maps gave me a beautiful clue.
In this image you can clearly see the footings from an old tressel bridge that crossed the river. The tracks were replaced by a dirt road that stops at both ends of the missing bridge. This will give me a starting point for asking land owners for permission to detect. Also, this gave me a few other possible sites.
Bridges themselves are often great places to fish or swim, and can turn up a find or two on the banks. But as I was scanning with Google Maps, I came across a grove of trees and clear foundation. I think this was an old farm house. I’m curious as to why the grove was left untouched. I’m thinking it might be a large dump and was easier to farm around vs. cleaning up the area. Again, this is another item on the list to detect.
So far, I’ve discussed having a goal or target before you begin your research to best optimize your research time. I talked about newspapers, historic books and Google Maps as research points, but I did leave off an incredibly valuable point. That point is the human contact!
Don’t forget to talk to people, to ask questions. When you ask for permissions, ask questions about the property. They often know about many more detecting sites, and can make calls to neighbors for you to get permission.
The saying, “success breeds success” can be easily applied to research. As soon as you get some good research in, it’s amazing how more and more sites and leads begin to pop up.
Good luck in your research!
Author: Hank D.