In this chapter of our metal detecting guide for beginners, we talk about how to do research to make sure your hunts are more productive.
While I could probably write an entire book on how to do productive research, this guide is going to touch on the basics and focus primarily on private land.
Before getting into specific sources, let’s first identify why it’s important to do research.
While the most important part of this hobby is just to have fun and enjoy yourself, it never hurts to create more productive hunts for yourself and walk away with better finds.
So instead of finding 87 cents in modern clad coinage in your two-hour hunt, you could potentially walk away with coins and relics that are hundreds of years older.
Here are a few ways to conduct research:
How do you research areas for metal detecting?
Arguably the best method of doing research, looking at old maps of your town can give you tons of ideas on where to hunt.
It also can be the catalyst for a more granular form of research such as searching old newspapers for specific family names.
Depending on where you live, there’s an online tool available to the public that’s awesome for comparing old maps with present-day maps.
It’s a website called HistoricAerials.com.
You can type in any address and quickly view overlays of old maps. So for example, I can view a present-day map of my house, and overlay a map from 1930 to compare how the area has changed over time.
What this allows you to do is to identify quickly things that no longer exist. If there once stood an old house in the woods near your house or point of interest, this tool can potentially tell you that.
This is an extremely effective way to find lost and forgotten homesteads and other structures.
I’ve done it many times with great success. Remember the French military button I told you about earlier in this guide?
The only limitation of HistoricAerials.com is that is doesn’t have data for the entire county, and the data it does have will typically only go back about 100 years maximum.
But if a house that was built in the 1700s was still standing in 1930, you should be able to spot it (as I have).
You can also quite easily find much older maps of your town or areas of interest from both online map collections, your local library, and your local historical societies.
Here are some great online map resources
As I mentioned above, your local library will often have invaluable resources to look at. Everything from old maps to old periodicals and microfilm can be found at your local library.
A lot of times this material will be in a special room under lock and key. But simply ask your librarian and they’ll be happy to grant you access.
The same is true with local historical societies. These can often be even more effective sources of information because the people working there can be a major asset to you.
And who knows, you may even find yourself making new friends and becoming a member of the society!
Local history books
Staying on the topic of local historical societies, this can be your first stop for finding local history books.
Whether published by the society themselves or self-published by a local historian, your local historical society can be a great source of lesser-known books.
Beyond this, I would recommend doing some Google searches for historical books on your town. The ‘Images of America’ book series is very popular and can be found at most bookstores as well as Amazon.com.
In addition to the old newspapers you came across on your trip to the local library, there are two other massive repositories to consider.
The first is Newspapers.com. This is a paid tool that’s owned by the same company that owns the popular Ancestry.com.
The great thing about this site is that you can do keyword searches to narrow down what you’re looking for. Whether you want to find mentions of a certain family, place, or event, chances are you’ll be able to find it there.
The only real limitation of this source is that it currently only has larger newspapers in its database (for larger cities).
So if you’re searching for something that’s super local or super niche, you may not have any luck.
The other, more well-known source to consider is microfilm.
Most county and state libraries will have a vast collection of microfilm to scroll through. You can even check to see if your nearby University Library has some to offer.
If you really want to get down and dirty with your newspaper research, ask your local librarian about a service called “Interlibrary loan.”
In a nutshell, for a small fee, your local library can ‘rent’ a specific reel of microfilm from other libraries and repositories anywhere in the country.
This can be a huge time saver as it prevents you from having to travel long distances to visit libraries who have specific films.
It does, however, require you to do a bit of research first to determine which reels of microfilms you want to rent (i.e. specific dates and newspapers).
State-specific treasure guides
Another way for finding great spots to detect in your area is to buy a ‘treasure book’ for your state or area.
You can find these at your local metal detecting shop or on amazon.
But essentially these books include things like historical sites and events, local folklore, old maps, known military battle sites/campgrounds/marching routes, and more.
While these books can pack a ton of great information, most of the information isn’t practical because a lot of the sites will be off-limits and require special permission or a permit. But they certainly are entertaining!
Last but not least, an often overlooked strategy for research is talking to the older members of your community as well as landowners of older homes/property.
A lot of people who like to hunt for Revolutionary and Civil War-era relics often ignore this suggestion because they figure, hey how is someone who was born in 1932 going to help me?
What I say to that is just because someone was born in 1932, doesn’t mean they don’t remember something from their childhood that once existed – a building, a home or any structure that no longer stands today.
Sometimes first-hand accounts can give us some of the best clues to discovering an old homestead that we would have never found otherwise.
As I mentioned above, a lot of times landowners (especially those who have several acres) might remember things that could guide your hunting. Like the example I gave with a landowner digging up old broken pottery on one section of his/her land.
I’ve seen some colonial homeowners have brief histories of the home and land that’s been passed down from one homeowner to the next. This can provide invaluable clues and help you laser focus your detecting area.
While there so many more forms of research you can do, these are often the most effective and easiest to conduct.
Next chapter: Metal Detecting Code of Conduct