This manual is intended to detail both general methods to be applied in performing online research, as well as tips and techniques related to specific sources highlighted by the Enlighten the People Project. Though we hope these tips and pre-filled searches will be helpful to you, they are also intended as a jumping-off point for you to be able to complete your own research.
1. Boolean search terms
Boolean searching refers to the use of five terms in order to specify, limit, or expand the result of a search. The terms are AND, NOT, OR, quotations [“…”] and parentheses [(…)]. Below are examples of how these terms should be used. Most, but not all, search engines make use of Boolean terms, and often advanced search bars break down searches into Boolean terms for easier use.
- AND: Links two or more search terms together. The search [constitution AND Philadelphia] will only return results which contains both the words “constitution” and “Philadelphia”. Periods and commas mark the end of a sentence inside quotations in America, while the opposite is true in Great Britain.
- NOT: Eliminates specific search terms from results. The search [constitution NOT Philadelphia] will only return results which contain the word “constitution”, but not the word “Philadelphia”.
- OR: Allows for two search terms to be applied at once. The search [constitution OR Philadelphia] will return results which contain either the word “constitution” or “Philadelphia,” but not necessarily both in the same result.
- QUOTATIONS [“”]: Allows for the search terms to be linked as a phrase. The search “we hold these truths to be self-evident” will only return results which contain that exact phrasing.
Truncation refers to the use of asterisks [*] in order to search for all forms of a word. Truncating the end of a root will return results containing words in different forms from that singular root. For example, the search [politic*] will return results containing the words political, politics, politician, etc.
Either before or after searches, databases allow you to focus your search by characteristics of the results. You can specify search results to be derived from journals, E-books, print books, or other formats. Limiting the search by a date or date range or a specific language is also possible. Limiting the form of your results will allow easier and more streamlined research.
Enlighten the People Sources
The Advanced Search of the Thomas Jefferson Portal provides the ability to combine terms using Boolean operators. Once you have performed a search, you also have the option of limiting by facets, which include date, language, library of ownership, and format, such as book, eBook, article, etc. It is also possible to sort in order of date, either by oldest or newest, though the Thomas Jefferson Portal (as most searches do) initially returns items in order of relevancy. Results in the Thomas Jefferson Portal are also tagged by subject, so the subjects of results can be mined for possible new search terms by looking at the description of items returned as results.
Jefferson Quotes and Family letters allows you to search both within the quotes, letters, or both. In all searches, separate words are automatically searched with the Boolean “OR” and parentheses or quotes will need to be used to search a phrase or use another Boolean term. Jefferson Quotes can be limited by category, recipient, or repository. Family Letters can be limited by collection, author, recipient, or repository. Both can be searched by date or date range, and searching via a keyword is required. A link next to the search bar leads to a collection of “Search Tips” for navigating the Jefferson Quotes & Family Letters Search Function.
All three sites use a custom Google search to find results. Thus, normal Google search terms and technique can be used. Though it uses Google as its search bar, results will only turn up within a limited number of sites. Early American History Sites and Encyclopedia Mythica only return results from select historic organizations, while Avalon Project pulls from its own document collections. EAHS and Encyclopedia Mythica are purely collections of sites to be searched, while Avalon Project also organizes its document collection by date.
Thomas Jefferson’s Libraries allow you to browse both by collection as well as a general search. The Boolean term “AND” is automatically placed between each word, so any phrases must be put into quotation marks. Other Boolean terms may also be used.
Founders Online uses a keyword search, and the Boolean AND is automatically inserted between words not inside quotation marks. Results can also be limited by author, recipient, period, or date range. Boolean terms can be used in the search bar.
Virginia Heritage automatically places the Boolean AND between separate words, so phrases must be placed into quotes. Advanced Searches can be performed by keyword, title, collection number, or repository, as well as limited by subject or repository after the fact.
Normal Search filters results by state, year, and keyword. Advanced Search filters by these categories as well, in addition to newspaper, language, and page. It also includes keywords, subjects, phrases, and words that must be within a certain number from each other.
As well as searching by keyword, the Digital Gallery allows users to browse by item, collection, and division. Boolean terms can be used. Facets that can limit search terms after the fact include topic, name, collection, place, genre, publisher, division, type, and date. The user can also choose to only view results which are in the public domain.
A normal search bar functions with Boolean terms. Users can also search within specific collections as designated by the DPLA.
ArchiveGrid provides one search for the archival collections of many different institutions. Boolean terms may be used in the Archive Grid search bar. They also use the punctuation mark ~ with the numbers 1-4. Thus, if you searched for “american revolution” ~4, the search would return results where the words “american” and “revolution” showed up within four words of each other. ArchiveGrid has a “How to Search” page linked at the top of their website.
People of the Founding Era has a search bar that accepts Boolean terms. It also sets constraints based on details of a figure’s life, such as gender, country, birth year, occuptation, etc. The categories people, slavery, places, gender, and occupations can also be browsed.
Encyclopedia Britannica features a basic search bar that does not accept Boolean terms. There is no advanced search feature. Some information is available for free, while some requires a payment to the database.
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy can be browsed by subject, as well as searched. Boolean terms can be used. There is no advanced search but there is a page of search tips, linked under the search bar. They also use the symbols -, +, ~, as well as searching by title and author.
SNAC allows you to search for people, families, and corporate bodies. The search bar does not support Boolean terms, but rather uses the symbol + for AND, as well as | for OR. There is no NOT function replacement. However, the – symbol will prevent words from being connected. Quotation marks and parenthesis can also be used, as well as ~N with a number to find words similar to those searched. All of these details are listed when Advanced Search is turned on. Faceted Search, when enabled, will allow searches by subject, occupation, or function.