Searching Jefferson's Papers

Thomas Jefferson’s papers did not remain in an intact collection after his death; they are now located in more than 900 different repositories all over the world.  Several different editions of his papers have been published since his death, but none of them are comprehensive or complete so far.  This guide will help you navigate the different sources of Jefferson documents to locate the information you need.

For full information on published editions of Jefferson's papers, see our article on the topic.

Finding Specific Documents

If the document is from the period 1760 to 3 March 1803, see the relevant volume of The Papers of Thomas Jefferson.  (Note: This edition is currently available online by subscription, and in a free version, formatted slightly differently, provided by the National Archives.  The online versions are usually lacking the most recent published volumes.)

If the document is from the period 4 March 1803 to February 1809:  A significant number of documents from this time period have never been published, and are not available except at the repository which owns the manuscripts.  However, if you have a reference to a specific document, chances are that it has been published at some point.

  1. Check the Thomas Jefferson: Papers collection in Hathi Trust, which contains the full text of all the major published editions of Jefferson's writings, including the Washington, Ford, and Lipscomb-Bergh editions.
  2. Check the Thomas Jefferson Papers collection at the Library of Congress.  A relatively high proportion of documents from this period are located at the Library of Congress. Note that the search engine only searches the headings for documents (usually just the names of the correspondents and the dates), and the text of the transcription if the Library of Congress has included it.  Only some of the documents have transcriptions.
  3. Check Yale’s Avalon Project, which has transcriptions of a limited number of presidential documents. 

 

If the document is from the period March 1809 to April 1816, see The Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series.  (Note: This edition is currently available online by subscription, and in a free version, formatted slightly differently, provided by the National Archives.)  A cumulative index to the published volumes is available online.

If the document is from the period May 1816 to July 1826:

  1. Check the Thomas Jefferson: Papers collection in Hathi Trust, which contains the full text of all the major published editions of Jefferson's writings, including the Washington, Ford, and Lipscomb-Bergh editions.
  2. Check the Thomas Jefferson Papers collection at the Library of Congress.  Note that the search engine only searches the headings for documents (usually just the names of the correspondents and the dates), and the text of the transcription if the Library of Congress has included it.  Only some of the documents have transcriptions.

Other significant online sources of transcribed Jefferson documents are the Founder's Constitution website (check the author index for a list of Jefferson documents) and the From Revolution to Reconstruction collection, hosted by the University of Groningen.  It also sometimes fruitful to simply search Google, and especially Google Books, for the document you are looking for, as many individual documents have been published in other books and articles.

Finding Documents on a Specific Topic

If you are searching for documents on a certain topic, or that concern a specific person, the best strategy is to first consult sources which will allow you to search as many documents as quickly as possible.

  1. Check PTJ and PTJ:RS, using either the fee-based or free online version.  If you must resort to the print edition, Volume 21 is a cumulative index for the first 20 volumes.  The indexes for all published PTJ:RS volumes can be searched here on the Monticello website.
  2.  There is no way to comprehensively search all documents for the periods not covered by Princeton yet (1802-1809 and 1814-1826).  The best you can do is search the Thomas Jefferson: Papers collection in Hathi Trust, which contains the full text of all the major published editions of Jefferson's writings, including the Washington, Ford, and Lipscomb-Bergh editions.

Other Options

There are a number of smaller editions of Jefferson papers, usually highly specialized by topic, which may contain a document you are looking for.  You may wish to consult any or all of these, depending on your research topic:

Adams, Dickinson W. and Ruth W. Lester, eds. Jefferson's Extracts from the Gospels: "The Philosophy of Jesus" and "The Life and Morals of Jesus". Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983.  This volume contains selected letters that discuss religious topics.  The letters are transcribed and annotated according to the standards and procedures established by the Papers of Thomas Jefferson editors.

Betts, Edwin M., and James Bear, Jr., eds. Family Letters of Thomas Jefferson. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1966. Reprinted Charlottesville: Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, 1986.  This volume contains selected correspondence between Thomas Jefferson and his children, grandchildren, siblings and in-laws.

Betts, Edwin M., ed. Thomas Jefferson's Farm Book: With Commentary and Relevant Extracts from Other Writings. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1953. Rep. 1976, 1987, 1999.  This edition of the Farm Book contains letters (some only excerpted) related to farming and agriculture.

Betts, Edwin M., ed. Thomas Jefferson's Garden Book, 1766-1824: With Relevant Extracts from His Other Writings, 1944. Rep. 1999.  This edition of the Garden Book contains letters (some only excerpted) relating to gardening and horticulture.

Cappon, Lester J., ed. The Adams-Jefferson Letters. Chapel Hill NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1959. Rep. 1988.  This two-volume work contains the complete correspondence between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, spanning the years 1777-1826.  It also includes letters to and from Abigail Adams.

Smith, James Morton, ed.  The Republic of Letters: The Correspondence between Thomas Jefferson and James Madison 1776-1826.  New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1995.  This three-volume work contains the complete correspondence between Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.

Lastly, it is often worthwhile to simply search Google and especially Google Books for the letter or reference you are looking for.  This may yield a useful citation to a published edition of Jefferson's writings, or sometimes a one-off transcription of the document.

 

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