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 National Register Bulletin How to Complete the National Register Registration Form

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U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service

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Where to Start

Understanding the Basics

Gathering the Facts

Making the Case for Significance


Before applicants begin to prepare a nomination, they should become familiar with the registration process and be aware of what information has already been gathered about the property or its community. Applicants should first contact the State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) for the State where the property is located. Members of the SHPO's staff have professional expertise and a strong knowledge of the history of their State. They are willing to provide assistance throughout the nomination process. If the property is owned by the U.S. government, applicants should contact the Federal Preservation Officer (FPO) for the agency responsible for the property.

SHPOs and FPOs can help applicants:

  • Obtain National Register forms and bulletins.

  • Understand the process and requirements for nominating properties in their state or agency.

  • Learn if the property is already protected by a local or State ordinance and whether it is listed in the State or National Register, either individually or as part of a district.

  • Obtain a copy of the survey form if the property has been documented in the statewide survey.

  • Learn how the property relates to themes and historic contexts identified as important in history, and obtain information about these that may be used in documenting the property.

  • Determine the most likely ways the property may meet the National Register criteria, the information needed to support eligibility, and sources appropriate for further research.

  • Obtain guidance for registering special kinds of properties, for example, moved buildings and structures, altered or deteriorated properties, archeological sites, historic landscapes, traditional cultural properties, properties associated with important persons, and maritime resources.

  • Complete more complex items of the National Register form, such as counts of contributingresources and UTM references.

SHPOs can also inform applicants if the community where the property is located is a Certified Local Government (CLG) and has a preservation officer who also can provide information and assistance.

SHPOs have an important role in the nomination process. They review all documentation on the property, schedule the property for consideration by the State review board, and notify property owners and public officials of the meeting and proposed nomination. The SHPO makes a case for or against eligibility at the board's meeting, and, considering the board's opinion, makes the final decision to nominate the property for National Register listing. The SHPO also comments on nominations and determinations of eligibility requested by Federal agencies.


Three key concepts--historic significance, historic integrity, and historic context--are used by the National Register program to decide whether a property qualifies for listing. An understanding of what these concepts mean and how they relate to a historic property can help those completing National Register forms. These concepts are briefly explained below. glossary in Appendix IV defines other terms used in this bulletin and the National Register program.


Historic significance is the importance of a property to the history, architecture, archeology, engineering, or culture of a community, State, or the nation. It is achieved in several ways:

  • Association with events, activities, or patterns

  • Association with important persons

  • Distinctive physical characteristics of design, construction, or form

  • Potential to yield important information.

The complete National Register criteria, including the criteria considerations for special kinds of properties, are listed in chapter III: Completing the National Register Registration Form, section 8: Statement of Significance. In addition to the above criteria, significance is defined by the area of history in which the property made important contributions and by the period of time when these contributions were made.


Properties are significant within the context of prehistory or history. Historic context is information about historic trends and properties grouped by an important theme in the prehistory or history of a community, State, or the nation during a particular period of time.

Because historic contexts are organized by theme, place, and time, they link historic properties to important historic trends. In this way they provide a framework for determining the significance of a property and its eligibility for National Register listing. A knowledge of historic contexts allows applicants to understand a historic property as a product of its time and as an illustration of aspects of heritage that may be unique, representative, or pivotal.

Themes often relate to the historic development of a community, such as commercial or industrial activities. They may relate to the occupation of a prehistoric group, the rise of an architectural movement, the work of a master architect, specific events or activities, or a pattern of physical development that influenced the character of a place at a particular time in history. It is within the larger picture of a community's history that local significance becomes apparent. Similarly State and national significance become clear only when the property is seen in relationship to trends and patterns of prehistory or history statewide or nationally.


Historic integrity is the authenticity of a property's historic identity, evidenced by the survival of physical characteristics that existed during the property's prehistoric or historic period.

Historic integrity is the composite of seven qualities:

  • location

  • design

  • setting

  • materials

  • workmanship

  • feeling

  • association

Historic integrity enables a property to illustrate significant aspects of its past. For this reason, it is an important qualification for National Register listing. Not only must a property resemble its historic appearance, but it must also retain physical materials, design features, and aspects of construction dating from the period when it attained significance. The integrity of archeological resources is generally based on the degree to which remaining evidence can provide important information. All seven qualities do not need to be present for eligibility as long as the overall sense of past time and place is evident.


A person wishing to prepare a nomination needs a thorough knowledge of the property. By physically inspecting the property and conducting historical research, applicants can gather facts such as the physical characteristics of the property, date of construction, changes to the property over time, historic functions and activities, association with events and persons, and the role of the property in the history of the community, State, or the nation.

When gathering information, keep in mind how it will fit into the final form. The form, first of all, is a record of the property at the time of listing: giving its location, defining its boundaries, identifying its historic characteristics, and describing its current condition. Second, it is a statement of how the property qualifies for National Register listing. Claims for historic significance and integrity are supported in the form by facts about the property. These facts link the property to one or more of the four National Register criteria, on one hand, and to the history of its community, State, or the nation, on the other.

Early ideas about how a property meets the National Register criteria can lead applicants to particular sources and types of information that may be more useful than others. For example, historic photographs provide valuable documentary evidence of the stylistic character and architectural form of a property at a given time in history. Newspapers and city directories may prove valuable for learning how many and what kinds of businesses existed at a particular time in a town's history and the role of a particular store, hotel, or supplier.

First, consult reliable secondary sources, such as published histories and biographies, theses and dissertations, theme studies, and survey forms. If these sources do not provide basic facts about the property, consult primary sources such as wills, deeds, census records, newspapers, maps and atlases, city directories, diaries, and correspondence. Persons documenting archeological sites should also become familiar with related studies and literature concerning the cultural group and period of occupation reflected by the site.

Sources of contextual information include published histories, studies of historic resources of a particular region or topic, and statements of historic context developed for preservation planning at the local, regional, or State level. These contain information about the chronological development of a community or region where the property is located or national trends that the property may be related to. For example, a study on the work of a well-known architect may be useful in determining the significant features of a public building done late in his career.

National Register Bulletin 39: Researching A Historic Property has additional guidance and a detailed list of sources for research.


Facts, such as date of construction, early owners or occupants, functions, and activities, not only verify the property's history, but also place the property in a particular time, place, and course of events. With this information, applicants can relate the property to patterns of history that extend beyond the doorstep or immediate neighborhood. From this perspective, applicants can begin to sort out the facts that give the property its historic identity and significance. Certain events, associations, or physical characteristics of the property will take on greater or lesser importance. Properties of the same time and place can be compared to determine whether their character and associations are unique, representative, or pivotal in illustrating the history of a community, State, or the nation.

It is easier to make the case for significance when a property is associated with historic themes or trends that have been widely recognized and fully studied, such as a "textbook" example of an architectural style or the railroad depot that fostered the suburbanization of many American cities. For help in assessing significance and integrity, consult the SHPO, FPO, or National Register Bulletin 15: How to Apply the National Register Criteria for Evaluation.

Applicants are ready to complete the registration form when they can answer the following questions:

  • What was the property called at the time it was associated with the important events or persons, or took on the important physical character that gave it importance?

  • How many buildings, structures, and other resources make up the property?

  • Does the property contain any archeological remains? To what period, events, and activities do they relate? To what extent has their significance been evaluated?

  • When was the property constructed and when did it attain its current form?

  • What are the property's historic characteristics?

  • What were the historical influences (such as design, materials, style, or function) on the property's appearance?

  • What changes have been made over time and when? How have these affected its historic integrity?

  • What is the current condition of the property, including the exterior, interior, grounds, and setting?

  • How have archeological sites, if any, been identified (e.g. through intensive survey)? To what extent and by what methods have subsurface deposits been located?

  • How was the property used historically and how is it used today?

  • Who occupied or used the property historically? Did they individually, or as a group, make any important contributions to history? Who is the current owner?

  • During what period of prehistory or history was the property associated with important events, activities, or persons?

  • Which of the National Register criteria apply to the property? In what areas of prehistory or history is the property significant?

  • How does the property relate to the history of the community where it is located?

  • How does the property illustrate any themes or trends important to the history of its community, State, or the nation?

  • How large is the property, where is it located, and what are its boundaries?


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