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How to conduct "proper" research?


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Whilst attempting to research a station and railway line near to me that had closed in 1968 and was demolished in about 1973 and subsequently built over, I quickly exhausted all of the usual internet possibilities and had to start learning how to do (is ???conduct??™ the right term?) research ???properly???. I realised that I did not know how to do this and promptly used the internet once again to try and teach myself how this was done!

 

An interesting idea that I found was ???how do I know what it is that I don??™t know - if I don??™t know what ???it??™ is, then how can I look for it?!???? Right now, I??™ll admit that I did look at some pretty ???academic??™ websites and they can take a bit of reading through!

Anyway for us railway modellers/historians, it should be fairly simple - 9 times out of 10, (like myself) we KNOW there was a station/line/depot at such and such a place and from there, it shouldn??™t be too hard to work out to a reasonable degree of accuracy the trains, locos, stock etc that worked at that place in that time.

In case any of you are interested, here is one of the sites I found helpful with regard to the definition of research, how to use it and what to do with the research when you have it: http://www.wsu.edu/~...e/research.html

As I say, this type of website does take a bit of reading through and in itself has nothing to do with railways at all! However, it does show a clear scientific or academic way of approaching the subject of research, sifting out the ???chaff??? and being left with good reliable information.

 

I??™ll just recap here the processes I went through ???on-line??™ to try and dig up information;

Google (or your other favourite search engine!).

Wikepedia.

Flickr (or your other favourite photo site!).

Line society (a lot of pre-group and the ???big four??™ railways have their own society/s - you just need to know which line your subject was on!)

The HMRS.

Local newspapers.

Local government/administration departments.

Local town/village sites.

Historic local industry sites.

???Disused-Stations??™ is another useful site I found.

Online search for books pertaining to your subject area - quite often there is enough of a description of the books contents to tell you whether this book is worth pursuing or not.

A question on the RMWeb itself.

Online Maps.

 

Pretty much all of these kinds of websites have a ???search??? facility to help you find what you are looking for (when you know what that is!) and they will even tell you if you are being too specific or vague - helpful!

The process of sifting through all these websites can be quite time consuming but at least, it??™s free and you??™re in a warm and comfortable environment. However, if you still cannot find (sufficient) information, like me - then it??™s time to go out and get dirty, cold, wet and possibly, spend money!

Well, I am now at that stage - all the above searches having come to very little, even throwing up confusing information(!). Hence the need to be able to sort out the ???chaff???.

Here is a list of what I plan to do next;

 

As the man in black said, I plan to ???walk the line??™! I did do some ???walking??™ last autumn but I??™m not doing that again until the weather warms up a bit! Seriously, winter time is a good time to do a ???railway walk??™ (where you can!) as the weeds and other undergrowth etc have died back - allowing you to see that bit more clearly and giving you easier access.

I??™m going to make up little ???postcard??™ sized adverts asking for help with information, photographs, reminiscences etc and ask local newsagents, chippys etc to put them up for me. This usually costs about 50p per week (if charged at all!).

More searching at the local library/local studies library and nearby public records office will no doubt have to be undertaken.

Finally, pleas in the local paper/s should help bring some more information out of the woodwork.

 

As I start to get out more, I will post further details of the fruits of my labours - of course!

In the meantime, can anyone else on here assist with ideas of how to go about gaining information, please?

 

Oh! and the station I??™m researching?

Lowton St. Mary??™s junction station on the former (isolated) Great Central (MS&L) line from Glazebrook C.L.C. to Wigan (central) and St. Helens (central).

The branch from Lowton St. Mary??™s to St. Helens was built by the Liverpool, St Helens & South Lancashire Railway in 1895 whereas the (main)line to Wigan (central) was built in 1879 by the Wigan junction Railway. However another source says the line was built by the Wigan Jct., & Strangeways Railway under the supervision of the Wigan coal & iron company. Whomever did build it, it became part of the Great Central proper in 1906, the St. Helens line closed to passengers in 1954, the Wigan line lost it??™s passengers services in 1964 and all traffic ceased in 1968, with demolition of St. Mary??™s coming in 1973.

 

A fair bit of the track beds remain however even though the station site has been turned into an industry - as I gain more knowledge, I do find this line most interesting - I suppose that is what research is all about!

 

Cheers and thanks for reading,

John E.

 

 

Edited to add map information.

Edited by 6026
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Guest dilbert

Don't forget The National Archives - http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/ and use the search engine.

 

You will not get all the info you require online, but at least you should be able to plan & prepare document references to research for an eventual trip (or three!) to TNA, located in Kew, Richmond, Surrey.

 

You are allowed to take photocopies of documents (for personal use) for a very modest sum...dilbert

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Hi Dilbert,

Yes, of course! The National Archives! How could i forget them?

Thanks for reminding me and yes - a lot of the other information that can be found could be regarded as merely 'pointers' for use at TNA!

Best regards,

John E.

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Don't forget The National Archives - http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/ and use the search engine.

 

You will not get all the info you require online, but at least you should be able to plan & prepare document references to research for an eventual trip (or three!) to TNA, located in Kew, Richmond, Surrey.

 

You are allowed to take photocopies of documents (for personal use) for a very modest sum...dilbert

 

 

That's a very old fashioned method of going about it.

They have camera stands and foam file holders. You can photograph as many pages as you like without a charge. If you ask for a seat near a camera stand you can set up your camera and leave it in position while you search and then copy what you need in batches. Digital photography makes life much easier. The staff are very good and will help you to find the best seat. No flash allowed of course so get a seat near the windows. No pens allowed, only a pencil. No note books, only loose pages. You can take a lap top so you can down load your photos to check that you have every thing you are after in the can before you leave. Restaurant is good for lunch and has free wireless connection available.

Bernard

Bernard

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Many records about the planning and construction of railways are held in city or county archives or public records offices.

 

The British Library has a copy of every book published in Britain since 1911 and every newspaper since 1800.

 

Depending on the regional interest, there is also the National Library of Scotland, National Archives of Scotland, National Library of Wales and Archives Wales.

 

And don't forget the extensive library and archives of the National Railway Museum.

 

Cheers

David

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A point to remember of course is that it depends what the research is 'for'. Modelling purposes of course require rather more in the way of pictorial sources. Research because you enjoy it, or for the purposes of historical enquiry is slightly different. TNA do some very handy research guides, including one for railway companies and the like which give a guide of the sorts of documents held by it and other repositories. The British Railways Board (Residual) webpages also explain - to a limited extent - where the documents it held went.

 

http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/records/looking-for-subject/railway-companies.htm?WT.lp=rg-3066

 

http://www.brb.gov.uk/railwayheritage

 

There's a link there to the National Register of Archives which is very good for corporate things. Parliamentary records relating to railways (acts authorising construction and so on) can also be accessed online to an extent:

 

http://www.parliament.uk/publications/archives.cfm

 

The NRM is also a useful resource, though it should be realised that it hasn't, for good archival reasons, been able to fully catalogue what it has acquired in the last 20 years. This is often, rather unfairly, complained about, but the range of material and the skills needed to accurately catalogue it are not cheap particularly if the material wasn't well described (rescued from skips, photos bequeathed without notes...), in the first place!

 

Adam

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I'm surprised you did't have Ordnance Survey maps as one of your first points of call ...? ? :unsure:

 

As recommended by Martin Wynne in the copyright topic this is a useful page - http://wtp2.appspot.com/wheresthepath.htm - Lost myself for quite a while in there earlier - with the ability to compar current maps/satmaps and older OS issues.

 

 

 

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If you've got access to proper searchable academic journal archives those can be a great source of reference material.of all kinds.

 

On the internet people seem to often miss out a few good sources

 

railphotoarchive.org - searchable by loco number and thus invaluable

 

youtube - lots of old video footage and more views of entire train formations than the photo sites

 

www.rssb.co.uk - rail safety standards (see also www.rgsonline.co.uk). These are invaluable for modern image modelling as they include all the rules/checklists for things like modern stations, lighting, crossings etc so you can build the model to the regs.

 

There are also some rather handy yahoo groups

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Hi Chaps,

WOW! Many thanks for the positive responses and suggestions and to Andy for placing in Hints & Tip's.

Even though i have conducted research online (& on foot!) before, this one seemed particularly difficult to retrieve information on, hence my resolve to dig deeper this time.

I DID use several online map sites and even though i spent some three days writing and rewriting my post (in word!), i forgot to mention the maps, D'oh!

This is where the power of a forum like this comes into play - we act as each others proof readers (thanks again!).

Keep digging!

John E.

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I teach Research Methods to undergraduate and postgraduate students and the biggest difficulty that any of them seem to have is not identifying what to research but in keeping an adequate record of the source. For academia this is quite straightforward as there are recognised referencing systems, but in this freeform original research the source and location of the record is vital if you need to go back to it again.

 

As much of this research is going to be original (and as such publishable) this is going to be quite important. Maybe in this (and I know this extends the scope of your original query) it would be valuable to look at how oral history researchers record their information.

 

You may find the Oral History Society webpages of use. http://www.oralhistory.org.uk/

 

P.S. And if you have to go this far, Consent Forms are a good idea.

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Guest stuartp

Don't forget The National Archives - http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/ and use the search engine.

 

Indeed. Despite having spent two years practically living in the West Yorkshire Archive for my degree, until recently it never occurred to me to use them for layout planning. Typing 'Newton Stewart station' into the Scottish National Archives search engine turned up a list of stuff 15 pages long including plans for buildings I'd been guessing the dimensions of.

 

The Signalling Record Society's site has a page on archive research, mostly aimed at unearthing signalling plans but still useful in a more general sense.

 

County Sites and Monuments Records (or Historic Environment Records in the more right-on and trendy local authorities) are aimed more at archeaologists but usually have extensive historic aerial photography collections.

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There is a very handy booklet available

 

KAY, P A Guide to Railway Research and Sources for Local Railway History

Teignmouth, Devon, SSG Publications. 1990

 

A quick google located a copy for sale for ??5 at the following link

 

http://www.antiqbook.co.uk/boox/rec/45365.shtml

 

Although this is pre internet information explosion it has many useful tips and guidance for those interested in getting in to 'proper' research.

 

Regards

 

Mike

 

 

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Don't forget your local reference library.

 

Some years ago I managed to get copies of full plans of the area around the local station, including the track (not sure how accurate it was mind). The archivists are always happy to help find stuff out. Keep meaning to go back and see what they've got now.

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I've found that the local history section of my nearest library has a wide and varied selection of material to use for research, also the membership of this forum seems to have at least one person who will have the answer you need for a particular topic. Finally, your local model railway club is also a good source of obscure and little known facts and titbits on the station you have in mind.

 

Kev

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Do not forget, either, that just about every railway that was ever built in Britain was authorised by Act of Parliament.

 

The Act was introduced as a Bill. And the Bill had no end of information lodged with it - including drawings, plans, schedules of landholding etc.

 

ALL of these remain available to be consulted at the House of Lords Records Office.

 

Of course, once the land had been compulsorily purchased and teh track laid, subsequent alterations to the track layout which did not require the acquisition of additional land could be done without further authorisation by further Act. But for many loactions, the papers which were lodged with the Bill will give you no end of useful material.

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As well as the National Archive, there are regional archives that hold a whole host of stuff. My example is The Greater Manchester County Record Office, which had ratings plans of Manchester Central, photographs, other plans and information (a dream layout of mine for when I will the lottery and retire.)

 

The Access to Archives website, part of the NA, is an online index to these.

 

 

 

 

 

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With regard to the Parliamentary Bills, copies of all these are lodged at the local county record office/archive. \the only thin g to be aware of is that the title will be that of the promoting railway company. These were often small independent lines that were either promoted by or absorbed into the later main line company. If your station is in Lancashire then google 'MARIO' which is an excellent mapping system run by the county council that also has historic aeriel photographs indexed onto the maps. The originals of these can been seen at the county Archive in preston. If the station is in Merseyside then they may have something similar.

 

Jamie

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John

 

Specifically answering your enquiry, the Greater Manchester County Record Office holds 2 chain surveys of the Glazebrook - Wigan line dated 1883(amongst many others) under the reference A/GCR/517. This will give you a good idea of the 'as built' layout of the station and its immediate surroundings.

 

Andy

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An excellent thread

 

As an academic, careful and meticulous referencing to previous work is critical, and huge databases of abstracts linked to journals and books are the mainstay of medical research.

Take a look at large reference databases (e.g. Pubmed, web of knowledge, web of science) to get a feel for how the academic community operates. It has transformed our ability to do research in the past 20 years, and has accelerated our progress as a result.

 

In terms of railway research it would be good if we adopted at least some of those principles. A good, electronically searchable database of Railway and model railway articles in journals (Model Rail, RM etc) would be very important - perhaps with even links to pdfs of the original articles with payment for access. Many academic journals make a tidy sum of collecting fees for each download of these pdfs. RMweb is of course very powerful in that it has google search engines to find topics that have been discussed over the years (most crucial pieces of information I've come across have been from RMweb users who are a huge resource!). I have hundreds of railway books- and I rely almost totally on memory to be able to find THAT picture of the diesel I'm converting. Not a particularly efficient method, and effective referencing would help considerably. Perhaps the big publication houses should think this one through.

 

Another major aid for us modellers is the development of fotopic websites (Fotopic Flickr), and the careful and altruistic release of private photo collections (e.g. on here Brushveteran, owentherail and Robert Carroll) on the web and RMweb. These are not readily accessible by traditional search engines which is a shame (except RMweb), but searching of the Flickr and fotopic sites is for me routine. I shudder in horror of the lost negatives that I took in the 1970s, there must have been thousands if not millions of precious records of our railway heritage which have gone the same way. Perhaps its time in an electronic age that we as a community look at this.

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