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 [graphic] National Register Bulletin: Guidelines for Local Surveys: A Basis for Preservation Planning

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

Chapter II: Conducting the Survey

Conducting a survey involves three sets of activities: archival research, field survey, and recording of information. Although archival research begins before fieldwork, and much information is recorded as the result of fieldwork, all three activities will normally be going on at once; those conducting them should interact and provide each other with advice and suggestions. Archival research will indicate what to look for and what to record, and fieldwork and recordation will identify information needs to be pursued in archival research. Survey leaders will be responsible for ensuring that all facets of the survey are effectively integrated.

This charter will discuss each of the major aspects of survey in turn, and will also present recommendations about such practical matters as how to equip a survey team.

Archival Research

Archival research-the study and organization of information on the history, prehistory, and historic resources of the community-is a vital part of the survey. It is on the basis of archival research that historic contexts are established and refined, providing basic direction to the field survey. Archival research makes it possible to predict where different kinds of historic resources will occur and what their characteristics may be. Archival research provides the information needed to place historic resources in their historical and cultural contexts, as a basis for evaluation. Archival research probably will have been carried on during survey planning, but in most cases it will be necessary to continue it during the survey operation itself, to follow up on issues identified during planning, to flesh out historic contexts, to explore new contexts, and to provide input to the field survey process as questions develop about specific areas and properties.

How should archival research be organized?

The mass of archival data relevant to the history of a community is likely to be voluminous, and can easily be overwhelming. It is vital to keep the archival research effort clearly focused on data relevant to the survey goals.

The concept of historic context-that is an organizational framework of information based on theme, geographical area, and period of time-is recommended as the basis for organizing information pertinent to the research design and survey results. A survey may focus on a single or several historic contexts and may identify properties relating to a single, several, or many property types depending on the goals of the survey. Historic contexts may be based on the physical development and character, trends and major events, or important individuals and groups that occurred at various times in the history or prehistory of a community or other geographical unit.

It is wise to develop a written research design at the outset, that establishes goals and directions for the research. In preparing the research design, survey leaders should consult the Secretary of the Interior's Standards and Guidelines concerning development of historic contexts, archival research, and historical documentation. Several major principles should be kept in mind:

  • Historical research and survey work already done should be incorporated into the new project and complemented, not duplicated unless there is a need to check its accuracy, refine it, or revise it.
  • The level of detail of archival research should be matched to the scale of the survey. (For example, if the survey is an initial reconnaissance of an entire community, archival research should be oriented toward the identification and description of general trends, groups, and events in the community's history, and their known or likely effects on the community's development. If the survey is an intensive study of a smaller area, archival study may be a much more detailed effort to reconstruct the specific history of particular properties, areas, and groups of people.)
  • The archival research effort should be focused, at least initially, on developing and refining the historic contexts established during survey planning.
  • The type of study should be matched to the goals of the survey. (For example, if the survey is concerned exclusively with standing structures, there may be little need for archival research in prehistoric archeology.)
  • While encouraging focussed research, survey leaders should be sure that the archival research project maintains sufficient flexibility to recognize and pursue new historic contexts that may be identified in the course of the work.

The research design should specify:

  • the geographic area(s) of concern;
  • the historic context(s) of concern;
  • research questions or issues to be addressed with respect to each historic context;
  • previous research known to have been done on such issues;
  • the amount and kind of information expected to be needed to address the historic context;
  • the types of sources to be used;
  • the types of methods to be used;
  • the types of personnel likely to be needed; and
  • where possible, expectations about what will be learned, or hypothetical answers to major research questions.

With the research design in hand, it should be possible to make realistic decisions about assignment of staff, allocation of time and budget, and other practical organizational matters.

As a rule, archival research should be organized into the following steps with reference to each historic context under investigation:

  1. Assemble existing information, including both information about previous surveys and historic resources already identified, and more general primary and secondary data, as discussed below. It is not necessary to ferret out every conceivable piece of available information before taking further steps, but beginning to assemble information into an organized whole, identifying sources and finding the relevant bodies of data in each, is the first general step in the archival research process,
  2. Assess the reliability of the information as it is assembled, identifying possible biases and major gaps in data.
  3. Synthesize the information in usable form, with reference to the issues important to the historic context. Generally such issues will include the reconstruction of trends in the settlement and development of the area, the definition of cultural values that may give significance to historic properties, the definition of architectural, aesthetic, and artistic values that may be embodied in such properties, and the pursuit of research questions in the social and physical sciences and the humanities.

    An understanding of the physical development of the community will provide researchers with a broad historical, architectural, archeological, and cultural context for research undertaken on particular properties. Evidence of the evolving plan and character of a community can be seen in the pattern of streets as laid out and modified, and in the location of transportation systems (canals, trolley lines, railroads, etc.), industries, institutions, commercial and residential areas, and reserved public spaces and parks. The kinds, size, and scale of buildings and structures, methods and materials of construction, and architectural forms and styles should be considered in defining the character of a community.

    The location of natural resources, soil types, availability of power and fuel, and accessibility to transportation systems were factors that frequently contributed to the siting and development of towns and cities. The development of agriculture, mining, or other activities that shaped the form of rural communities or small towns should be considered.

    Events significant in the community's history may be represented by the existence or location of particular buildings. Sites of events, such as commemorative occasions, famous battles, historical debates, theatrical performances, or political speeches, should be identified. Research should be done not only on properties associated with familiar figures-leading politicians, educators, and business persons-but also on groups or individuals important for their contribution to the arts, literature, philanthropy, agriculture, engineering, and other areas. Properties associated with the, social, economic, and ethnic groups that have contributed to the community's history and cultural diversity should also be identified. It is of great importance to try to understand the general trends and patterns of social, economic, and cultural development that have characterized each period of the community's past and its resident groups. Properties associated with activities important to a community's development and perhaps distinctive character, such as ethnic settlement, agriculture, transportation, mining, local government, education, county or local government, or maritime trade should be identified.

    Trends reflected in existing cultural properties may include emigration, population shifts, changing economic and labor systems, reform movements, status of minority groups, development of industrial and technical processes, and important religious developments. Research on individual properties includes such items as architect, engineer, and date and cost of construction. Depending on the intensity of the survey effort, researchers may attempt to consider reasons for the use or introduction of particular styles, materials, or methods of construction in specific properties.

  4. Identify the types of historic property that may be associated with the historic context. For example, a given period may be characterized by the construction of particular kinds of buildings expressing particular architectural styles; a particular social or ethnic group important in the community's history may have organized its buildings and neighborhoods in particular ways; a particular cultural group in prehistory may have had certain kinds of villages, agricultural stations, and campsites that now are represented by different kinds of archeological sites.
  5. Determine how each type of property is likely to be distributed within the community. Sometimes this is a simple matter: for example, historic port facilities will likely be close to the water, or it may be well documented that urban growth followed the development of streetcar lines or streets. In other cases determining likely distributions may be more complicated; for example, predicting the distribution of prehistoric sites requires knowledge of the prehistoric natural environment, which may be hard to reconstruct, and at least general theoretical notions about how prehistoric peoples would have carried out their activities in that environment. Historic maps, atlases, and plats may assist in determining the likely distribution of historic properties, particularly where subsequent growth has altered the terrain, plan, or layout of a community or area. Areas in which particular kinds of historic resources are expected should be clearly identified and mapped, so that the expectations can be tested in the field. Often it will be useful to develop maps or map overlays showing locations where different kinds of historic properties are likely to occur, so that these can be easily checked on the ground.
  6. Establish the likely current condition of the property types. Were the buildings of one period or style built of stone and brick, while those of another were built of wood? Is this likely to have resulted in the preservation of buildings of the first period and the loss of those of the second? Did the downtown burn at some point in the past, destroying all its commercial buildings constructed before the date of the fire? Is it likely that archeological remains of these buildings are still in place? Were many older buildings in town covered with anodized aluminum during modernizations in the 1950s? What is the likelihood that their original architectural elements have survived under their new skins? Have some neighborhoods been well kept since their establishment? Have others suffered major deterioration, arson, or spot demolition? Have some areas, likely to contain prehistoric or more recent archeological sites, been covered with fill and low-density housing built on slabs, possibly preserving the archeological sites beneath? Have other such areas been the scenes of deep basement excavation, probably destroying all archeological remains? Here, too, it is often useful to present such information on maps or map overlays.
  7. Identify information needs to be satisfied by fieldwork. What should be known about the historic context and its resources that can be found through the field survey? These needs should be used to guide the fieldwork.


Predictions of the general location of archeological sites may be among the most useful products of archival research, since such resources are often invisible from the surface of the ground in urbanized areas. Such predictions are often most conveniently presented in map form. For example, for a hypothetical example, general environmental data and information on prehistoric and early historic settlement patterns suggest that levees along the banks of streams are good places for prehistoric settlements to have existed, and early explorers' accounts indicate that a village did exist in such a location within what is now the community being studied. Later, according to the town's records, a hotel was built on the same general location, which became important in the town s early political development. The hotel Survived into the early 20th century, when it burned along with other buildings in its vicinity; old news accounts indicate that its superstructure was demolished and pushed into its cellar. The site was leveled, and was unoccupied until the 1950s, when an office building, still in use, was constructed with a deep basement. A few years later, during channelization of the adjacent creek, newspaper accounts and a local amateur archeologist's notes report that Indian artifacts were found, tending to confirm both the early explorers' accounts and the predictions from environmental data about where Indian sites were likely to be. All this information can be combined to produce a map showing where it is most likely that the remains of the Indian village, possible other prehistoric sites, and the remnants of the hotel may be found underground.

What sources of information should be consulted?

Researchers should use both primary and secondary sources in compiling historical data for the survey. If a comprehensive survey is being planned, primary sources will be consulted frequently; surveys limited by time and money, however, will rely heavily on secondary sources. In either case, it is essential that the sources consulted be reliable and accurate.

Primary, or original, sources include actual material that has been preserved from the period of interest: written or published documents and graphic material, as well as the artifacts themselves. For an in-depth survey, original sources will usually provide a more complete and accurate picture of the community's history than will secondary sources.

Records of the community's physical development may be found in:

  • back issues of local newspapers and periodicals
  • family papers and records
  • accounts of travelers
  • early ethnographic accounts
  • church histories
  • industry and business records
  • records on publicly financed construction
  • school records
  • city and county commercial directories
  • census reports
  • telephone books
  • tax rolls
  • deeds and wills
  • interviews
  • keepsakes, letters, and personal diaries
  • ledgers, canceled checks, and receipts

Researchers should also be on the lookout for graphic material (plat maps and other historical maps, old photographs, bird's-eye views, and historical prints) which can provide information that corroborates or clarifies the results of field survey work. Old maps and insurance atlases, such as those published by the Sanborn Map Company, Inc., New York City, identify buildings existing at a certain time and document changes through subsequent printings. These can provide the field team with an initial list of sites and structures to be investigated.

Old photographs may provide evidence of changes and additions and allow the field team to cross-check their own observations, questions, and deductions about particular properties. Aerial photographs can also be used in carrying out survey work, in establishing boundaries of an historic district, in pinpointing location and property lines of individual properties, and in analyzing the street patterns, open space development, and growth of the area.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Consolidated Farm Service Agency (CFSA), which incorporates the functions of the previous Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service (ASCS), has been taking aerial photos of approximately 80% of the country regularly since 1940; areas are re-photographed every 6-8 years. Photos are usually available for viewing at local ASCS offices, which can also provide ordering information. The National Archives in Washington, DC, has converted much early aerial photographic coverage of the Nation to modern chemically stable film and archived it for viewing. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration maintain files of more recent aerial photographs and satellite imagery. The latter, usually available in forms suitable for computer enhancement and manipulation, can be particularly useful in identifying soil contexts and environmental indicators that may suggest the presence of archeological sites. For information on the use and availability of such remote sensing data, consult the State Historic Preservation Officer or the Regional Office of the National Park Service.

Where subsurface archeological resources are involved, a different kind of primary data may be important as a supplement to the sources discussed above. Primary archival information relevant to subsurface archeological sites may not actually have been produced during the period of interest (for prehistoric periods, by definition it could not have been). Instead such information has usually been produced during more recent periods, but can be used to reconstruct important characteristics of the period under study and its resources. Often useful information sources include:

  • Local soil maps, often available from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Soil Conservation Service, through local Soil Conservation Districts or planning departments, which can be used to identify characteristics of the prehistoric and early historic natural environment (e.g. marshes indicated by poorly drained clay soils) and likely prehistoric site locations (e.g. well-drained soils near old watercourses where prehistoric agriculturalists might have had their villages and fields).
  • Ethnographic studies of local Indian groups.
  • Reports and field notes of earlier professional and amateur archeologists.
  • Aerial and satellite imagery that may reveal otherwise invisible aspects of the prehistoric or historic natural environment and such early human modifications of the land as roads, trails, fields, and irrigation systems.
  • Old newspaper accounts of artifact finds during construction, basement excavation, and land leveling.
  • Construction records of land filling and basement excavation, which can identify areas where subsurface resources are likely either to have been preserved (by being filled over) or destroyed (by being excavated).

Secondary sources are those written by individuals who have studied and interpreted the available original sources. They generally provide a broad overview of the community's history but represent a later interpretation rather than a contemporary record of events or reflection of the spirit of the times

Valuable sources include the following:

The ongoing statewide survey of historic resources significant in American history, architecture, engineering, archeology, and culture at the national, State, and local levels. This and additional State survey data are available from the appropriate State Historic Preservation Officer,

The historic preservation plan developed and maintained by the State Historic Preservation Officer, which often includes established historic contexts (sometimes called study units) with extensive organized and synthesized background data.

Inventories that may be maintained by the local or State offices of the Bureau of Land Management or the Forest Service, or by regional planning bodies or such State agencies as the State coastal zone management agency or environmental protection agency. These bodies of data can often be accessed by computer, and sometimes have been used by the agencies that maintain them to produce "predictive models"-that is, predictions about the likely distributions of archeological sites and other historic properties.

Local, regional, or State histories: monographs, pamphlets, or other material prepared by local or State historical societies or other groups concerned with particular aspects of State or local history (genealogical societies, e.g., although researchers should be aware that the concerns of genealogists may not be directly related to the issue of establishing the significance of resources).

The records of the National Register of Historic Places, Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), and Historic American Engineering Record (HAER), are available for review through the National Park Service or the Library of Congress.

The American Guide Series (WPA), compiled and written by the Federal Writers' Project of the Works Progress Administration, is one of the basic sources of information on communities, regions, and States. Originally published some 45 years ago, these guides contain detailed histories of their respective States, descriptions of their resources and industries, and selected points of interest for each community. A number of these guides have been reprinted within recent years and may provide useful background material for those beginning survey work within a community. Often, State, county, or city libraries have retained the survey forms and research files which formed the basis for these guides.

The Human Relations Area Files (HRAF) provide abstracted and excerpted information on aboriginal societies, including American Indian groups, together with extensive bibliographic material. Many universities maintain copies of those portions of the HRAF that are pertinent to their research and teaching in anthropology and sociology. Inquiries at the anthropology department of local universities should reveal whether the HRAF or other ethnographic documents are available.

Anthropological and sociological works that provide theoretical models of prehistoric and historic social systems, economic systems, and settlement systems, on a regional, national, or worldwide context, that may be relevant to the historical contexts of the community.

Dissertations, theses, and other research papers on the history and prehistory of the area, available in college and university departments of history, anthropology, and archeology.

Reports of oral history projects carried out by local universities, colleges, secondary schools, and community organizations.

General works on the geology, geomorphology, ecology, environment, and land-use history of the region, which may help researchers understand natural constraints on, and results of, trends in the use of land and other resources in and around the community.


The organizations listed in the middle of Chapter 1 as possible sources of information on professional consultants can often also provide information on sources of information concerning their areas of interest. In addition, the following societies and associations may be able to provide assistance in researching particular aspects of the survey area:

American Folklore Society, 1703 New Hampshire Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20009 (oral history sources and methods, vernacular architecture, etc.).

American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), 345 East 47th Street, New York, NY 10017 (civil engineering works).

American Society of Mechanical Engineers, 345 East 47th Street, New York, NY 10017 (industrial features).

Center for Historic Houses, National Trust for Historic Preservation, 1785 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20036 (residential buildings).

Council of American Maritime Museums, c/o The Mariners' Museum, Museum Drive, Newport News, VA, 23606 (ships, harbor facilities).

Council on America's Military Past (CAMP), P.O. Box 1151, Fort Myer, VA 22211 (military posts, battlefields, etc.)

Friends of Cast-Iron Architecture, 235 East 87th Street, Room 6C, New York, NY 10028 (cast-iron architecture).

Friends of Terra Cotta, P.O. Box 42193, Main Post Office, San Francisco, CA 94142 (terra cotta architecture).

League of Historic American Theaters, 1600 H Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036 (theaters).

National Association for Olmsted Parks, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10011 (landscape architecture by Frederick Law Olmsted and his associates).

National Society for the Preservation of Covered Bridges, 63 Fairview Avenue, South Peabody, MA 01960 (covered bridges). http://www.vermontbridges.com/nspcb1st.htm

Oral History Association, Dickinson College P. O. Box 1773 Carlisle, PA 17013 (oral history sources and methods).

Pioneer America Society, Inc, (c/o Department of Geography, University of Akron, Akron, OH 44325 (early American architecture).

Public Works Historical Society, 1313 East 60th Street, Chicago, IL 60637 (public works projects).

Railroad Station Historical Society, 430 Ivy Avenue, Crete, NE 68333 (railroad stations and related facilities).

Society for Applied Anthropology, 1001 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Suite 800, Washington, DC 20036 (oral history and ethnographic sources and methods).

Victorian Society in America, 219 East Sixth Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106 (Victorian architecture).

Where may primary and secondary information be found?

Libraries offer a rich source of information on local places and events and should be the starting point in undertaking historical research in a community. Libraries in larger towns and cities often house special collections relating to the history and development of the community, and local newspapers and journals provide valuable insights into personalities and events shaping the community's physical environment. In addition, old newspapers and directories provide information about building materials, architects, and contractors; they may also list building permits or contain articles relevant to particular buildings.

Archives or public records at the local county courthouse or town hall usually provide census reports; abstracts and title deeds; surveyors' notes; probate records, which include items such as bills of sale, debtors' notes, wills, and household inventories; and tax records showing property improvements such as major additions or the actual construction of the house on taxed property. Land records, such as plat maps, are also available from most county courthouses.

Universities and colleges are also good places to undertake research. University libraries often contain special collections or archival material not available in local libraries; faculty members in history, anthropology, and architecture departments may be able to direct researchers to other available sources, such as unpublished research papers and reports. Some State universities have collections that deal specifically with State history. Others have special research units that archive information on local historic or prehistoric archeology.

Museums usually have libraries and archives, and employ staff familiar with undertaking research. Local museums often collect regional artifacts-furniture, housewares, hardware-that can provide insights into their manufacture and owners, in short, the social history of the community. Some museums maintain significant collections of documented artifacts and records concerning the archeology of the community or the region.

State and local historical societies are often important sources of information. Often such organizations are not particularly oriented toward historic preservation as such, but specialize in the collection and study of documents about local or regional history, and sometimes undertake oral history projects and other special studies. Some have distinguished publication programs; others maintain archives. Whatever their size, scope, and particular interest, they are likely to have gathered information that will be useful to the survey effort.

Local historic preservation or landmark commissions have increased greatly in number in the last decade. While such commissions are largely a phenomenon of the post-World War II years, a few date back to the nineteenth century. These organizations range from those supporting individual buildings to those operating and maintaining several-or an entire group-of historic structures, to those officially responsible on behalf of local government for historic preservation in the entire community. A number of commissions have undertaken their own surveys, and many maintain ongoing records of a community's growth.

State, regional, and local archeological societies often maintain files, notes, and libraries of information on archeological sites, excavations, and analyses. These are useful not only for determining the locations of potentially important properties, but also for gaining insights into locally important research questions and the nature of prior study in the area. The State Historic Preservation Officer should be able to provide the names and addresses of such organizations. These groups often limit access to their data in order to prevent it from falling into the hands of vandals and collectors; this concern should obviously be respected.

State and National Parks in the vicinity of the community may have archives of historical information, particularly if the interpretation of historic resources is among their purposes. Even if park personnel have not intentionally set out to collect such information, it is often donated to the park, and may deal with historical events and resources far beyond the park's boundaries.

The National Archives in Washington, DC, and in several regional repositories contain vast bodies of information developed or collected by Federal agencies over the years. The Archives may be particularly important to a local survey if the survey deals with Federal land or land formerly controlled by a Federal agency, or land in which the Federal government has been indirectly involved (for example, through soil conservation or housing programs).

The Library of Congress houses the records collected by the Historic American Buildings Survey and Historic American Engineering Record (HABS/ HAER). These are maintained by a program called Cooperative Preservation of Architectural Records (COBAR), at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, and in regional repositories at Cambridge, MA, New York, NY, and San Francisco, CA. The Library of Congress also houses a tremendous collection of published and manuscript historical documents, and is the home of the American Folklike Center, which collects, studies, and archives documents, tapes, photos, videotapes, films, and other material on oral history, folk arts, folk crafts, vernacular architecture and industrial activities, and ethnography.

The National Cartographic Information Center (U.S. Geological Survey, Department of the Interior, Reston, VA 22091) is a good source of information on maps and other bodies of cartographic data.

Federal agencies may have useful information; for example, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers may have information on local coastal environments and civil works projects that have been conducted along the coast or rivers in the past. Local military bases often have archives that contain information on the communities near which they lie. Local and State offices of the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management may have inventories of archeological sites and other historic properties in the area, and may have prepared predictive maps of their distribution that can be helpful to communities in the vicinity. The Soil Conservation Service and local Soil Conservation District offices are good sources of maps and reports on local soils and other aspects of the environment that may be useful in archeological survey.

Planning and development offices of local government or regional intergovernmental organizations can provide useful maps and reports on local demography, economics, and environmental matters.

Noninstitutional sources. Local industries and businesses may have records or histories of their operations, and local newspapers may have clippings or photograph files; these may be helpful to historians in tracing a community's commercial development. Neighborhood organizations may maintain archival data on the history of the neighborhood and its residents. Local residents themselves, especially those whose families have lived in the area for several generations, may keep family records and early photographs that could be useful in research.

Conducting Field Survey

As discussed in Chapter 1, field survey is usually divided into two types: reconnaissance and intensive survey. Sometimes both types are conducted as related parts of the same survey project; in other cases, reconnaissance is used to plan and focus later intensive survey. For some planning purposes, reconnaissance may be all that is needed. In this section we will first discuss how to conduct a reconnaissance, then how to conduct an intensive survey.

How is a reconnaissance of above-ground resources carried out?

Assuming that the pattern of streets and roads in the community has remained fairly stable through time-perhaps expanding, but with relatively few rights-of-way being abandoned-it can reasonably be expected that most older buildings will be visible from modern streets and roads. As a result, the windshield survey is a common method of reconnaissance when historic buildings and structures are the subjects of interest. A windshield survey can also be efficient in the identification and initial description of historic districts made up of buildings, structures, and landscapes, and in the identification of major landscape features such as parks, roadways, and areas where distinctive land use patterns have shaped the surface of the land.

In a windshield survey, surveyors literally drive the streets and roads of the community and make notes on the buildings, structures, and landscape characteristics they see, and on the general character of the areas through which they drive. Closer inspections are made on foot as needed, but the basic purpose of the reconnaissance is not to gain detailed information on particular structures or sites, but to get a general picture of the distribution of different types and styles, and of the character of different neighborhoods. Records taken on individual structures are usually abbreviated, but more detailed information may be collected on the general organization of the area being surveyed-its streetscapes, the general character of its housing stock or commercial buildings, representative buildings and structures, the layout of its spaces in general, the social, economic, and ethnic makeup of its residents. A good photographic record should be kept of the reconnaissance, with the subject of each roll and frame clearly identified. Audio and video recorders may be used to obtain rapidly general records of the area and its resources; where such media are used, it is important to keep careful records indicating which segments of which tapes apply to which areas.

Windshield survey is most effectively carried out by teams of two to three persons, one of whom concentrates on driving and covering the entire survey area efficiently. At least one other team member should be thoroughly familiar with local architectural styles; where nonprofessionals are used, training in local architectural styles may be supplemented by use of a reference guide showing different styles and their characteristic elements. It will also be helpful to the reconnaissance if at least one member of the team is a resident of the area being inspected, or is otherwise personally familiar with its layout and social characteristics.

Windshield survey creates an unavoidable bias toward observing those buildings and structures visible through the windshield-that is, those facing the street. This bias should be kept in mind at all times, and the team should be alert to opportunities to note outbuildings and other structures that may ordinarily be masked from the street. Evidence of changes in the historic street and road pattern should also be looked for, both in archival research and in the field, since such changes may result in the isolation and masking of buildings that once were visible from rights-of-way.

Where the survey area is large, it may be appropriate to conduct a sample windshield reconnaissance, In this kind of reconnaissance, sample blocks, streets, or other units are selected that are thought likely to be representative of entire subareas of the survey area-residential neighborhoods or particular commercial areas, for example. These samples are then inspected using standard windshield survey methods, and used as the basis for generalizing about the resources of the various subareas. Care should be taken in selecting samples, to ensure that they are objectively chosen and likely to be truly representative. It may be helpful to consult with sociologists or others who have conducted surveys of other kinds in the area, and to apply their techniques or to use the survey units that they have selected. It may also be helpful to consult the extensive literature on sampling in such fields as human geography and archeology, examples of which are included in the bibliography.

One of the important functions of a reconnaissance is to identify the boundaries of areas that may become the objects of intensive survey-perhaps potential historic districts, perhaps portions of the community having distinctive architectural, planning, or cultural characteristics. Such boundaries should be clearly mapped by the reconnaissance teams, and the basis for recognizing each boundary should be specified.

For each area subjected to windshield reconnaissance, the notes resulting from the reconnaissance should document:

  • the kinds of properties looked for;
  • the boundaries of the area inspected;
  • the methods used in inspecting the area, including notes as to any areas given special attention and any areas given less attention or not inspected at all;
  • the general street plan of the area, and general observations on the area's visual, cultural, economic, and social characteristics;
  • the general character of the area's architectural environment, with illustrations of representative buildings and structures, streetscapes, landscapes, and other relevant features;
  • the kinds of historic buildings and structures observed, and data on any particular buildings and structures recorded in detail;
  • the tentative boundaries of historic districts, and the known or likely locations of specific historic buildings, structures, sites, and objects; and
  • the locations of any areas that appear not to contain any historic buildings or structures.

How is a reconnaissance for archeological sites carried out?

Where land is relatively built up, as is the case in most communities undertaking historic resources surveys, both prehistoric and early historic archeological sites are likely to be more or less invisible, buried under modern, created land surfaces and structures. As a result, archival research is especially important to the conduct of an archeological reconnaissance; quite often, the reconnaissance consists of nothing more than field-checking predictions made on the basis of archival research.

The first step in an archeological reconnaissance, then, is to develop predictions about where archeological sites are likely to be found. Such predictions are developed based on the following kinds of information, developed through archival research:

1. Information on prehistoric and early historic environments. By reconstructing the pre-modern natural environment, archeologists can develop a basis for predicting where earlier people could and could not have lived and worked. For instance, if much of a city is built on reclaimed land that once was a lake, the likelihood of prehistoric archeological sites in the reclaimed areas will be very low, but the probability of such sites on peninsulas protruding into the lake or along the ancient shoreline may be quite high. Information on early environments may be obtained from the accounts of early explorers or settlers, from previous archeological studies of the area, and through the analysis of soil maps that often are available from the Soil Conservation Service. For coastal communities, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers often has detailed maps showing previous shoreline environments.

2. Data on prehistoric settlement patterns. If data are available on the ways in which earlier populations were distributed over the land, projections can be made about how the archeological sites they created will be distributed. Data may be found in ethnographic accounts, early historical documents, and previous archeological studies. Care must be taken in making predictions on the basis of such data, however, because they are often incomplete, biased, or reflective of only one time period or social group among many. It is particularly dangerous to make predictions based on extant archeological information. Most archeological surveys conducted before about 1965, and many conducted thereafter, were designed not to record all archeological sites in the area being studied, but only to find convenient sites to excavate. Predicting from such data alone typically makes it appear that archeological sites are most often found along roads and close to parking areas.

3. Data on local history and land use. The history of the community should indicate what groups of people arrived at different times, where they lived, what sorts of activities they engaged in, and so on. Old maps will often make it possible to pinpoint particular vanished buildings, structures, and areas of population concentration. Compilations of local historical data may be biased, quite often emphasizing the history of leading citizens, the rich, and the powerful. Data on the less prominent social groups that contributed to the mosaic of the community's history may be harder to find. Detailed study of historic accounts, particularly old newspapers, journals, and other primary sources, and direct interviews with descendants of the groups in question may be necessary. Close coordination between archeologists and those carrying out any oral history component of the survey may be appropriate.

4. The history of land development and construction in the area. Where a particular area has been identified as the likely location of prehistoric or early historic activities or structures, information on the kinds of land development and construction that have taken place there will help archeologists determine the likelihood that evidence of them has survived in the form of archeological sites. Areas that have been covered only with relatively low-density housing, especially without basements, are likely to contain the archeological remains of previous activities that occurred there, buried beneath fill and foundation slabs. Conversely, areas that have seen extensive basement excavation or other forms of major land disruption are less likely to retain intact archeological remains.

5. Information on previous archeological discoveries. In some communities, professional or avocational archeologists were on the scene before development took place, and recorded archeological sites that may now have disappeared under fill and structures. Discoveries of archeological material during construction, pipeline laying, and other development activities may be reported in newspapers. While the particular artifacts or other material discovered will have been removed from the ground, the fact that it was there may indicate that other material still exists nearby.

Areas predicted to contain archeological sites based on such information should be identified on maps and inspected. The ground surface should be closely examined to the maximum extent possible, and any locations where subsurface conditions may be exposed (road cuts, ditches, etc.) should be inspected. It may be appropriate to interview local residents or workers to find out if they have discovered artifacts. In most cases, some kind of subsurface testing will be necessary. In a reconnaissance, this will usually involve the use of powered or hand-driven augers or other probes, or the excavation of backhoe trenches. In some cases, test-pits excavated using hand tools will be feasible, though this is often not cost-effective where the surface has been compacted or filled with construction rubble. Sometimes ground-penetrating radar, magnetometers, and other remote sensing devices can be used to good effect.

Under non-urban or suburban conditions, reconnaissance fieldwork can be more general and inclusive. The same kind of background data should be collected as under urban conditions, and the same kinds of predictions attempted; these predictions will give the field teams a clear idea of what to look for. In the field, reconnaissance generally involves one of two approaches, depending on the size of the area being inspected. For relatively small areas, a reconnaissance may involve a simple inspection of the ground surface and any locations where subsurface conditions may be exposed (cut banks, etc.), to identify easily visible archeological remains and locations where more work may be necessary to determine what exists at depth (e.g., areas where the ground surface is heavily obscured or buried). Where larger areas are involved, a sampling approach is often used. Sample blocks (often called quadrants) or transacts are selected using a strategy designed to ensure that they are representative of the area as a whole. These are then subjected to intensive survey as discussed below. From the results of the intensive survey and archival research, generalizations are made about the likely distribution of archeological sites in the survey area as a whole. There is extensive literature on the use of sampling in archeological survey; for a summary designed for use by non-archeologists, see the National Park Service publication, The Archeological Survey: Methods and Uses.

At the reconnaissance level of survey, the data obtained may be sufficient only to determine, within reason, whether archeological sites in fact do exist within the area studied, and to determine their approximate locations, boundaries, and depth. More intensive study will often be needed to determine to what extent they retain integrity and to define their internal organization; in most cases, this kind of information will be vital to determining their significance.

The reconnaissance data, including a full description of the background research, its results, and the methods employed in fieldwork, should be fully documented as a part of the survey. At least the following items should be covered in the reconnaissance documentation:

  • the kinds of properties looked for, with the archival or other basis for their definition and recognition;
  • the boundaries of the area(s) inspected;
  • the methods used, including identification of any areas inspected more or less thoroughly than others, and of any areas where special techniques to identify subsurface features were employed;
  • the general character of the area's archeological resources, if any, as indicated by the results of the reconnaissance;
  • specific information on any sites recorded in detail; and
  • identification of any areas where, based on the archival research and field reconnaissance, it is concluded that no archeological sites will be found, with a discussion of the reasons for reaching this conclusion in each case.

How is an intensive survey for above-ground resources carried out?

In an intensive survey, the goal is to document all historic buildings, structures, sites, objects, and potential districts in sufficient detail to permit their evaluation and registration in the National Register of Historic Places or a State or local equivalent. As a result, intensive survey involves the inspection of every such property in the area being studied. Only properties that can be clearly identified, on the basis of established criteria, as non-historic are not subjected to study. Where a historic district is being considered, it is important to note even non-historic properties as non-contributing elements.

As with reconnaissance, it is vital that intensive survey fieldwork be preceded and accompanied by archival research. As the survey progresses, archival researchers and field surveyors should continue to interact closely.

It is usually necessary to divide the survey area into manageable units, such as groups of city blocks or defined neighborhoods, and either to survey these one by one or to assign a team to each. The survey team should consist of appropriately trained and supervised workers, with the equipment necessary to prepare complete records (see section on equipment, below). The survey should be carried out essentially on foot; all major buildings and structures, and all outbuildings and other ancillary structures and objects should be inspected. Interiors should be inspected whenever possible to identify significant features. Where cultural landscapes are involved, these should be carefully described and mapped.

Normally, the survey will focus on the architectural or landscaped qualities of the properties involved, and will involve the description of each building or structure, each element of the cultural landscape, and, where applicable, each district or object, with reference to standard architectural and landscape architectural terminology. Even though the significance of a building or structure may lie in its association with historical events or people, it is important that it be described accurately in terms of the building style it represents, its mode of construction, and its architectural features. Naturally, however, where archival research suggests that properties may be important for their association with historical events, trends, groups, or individuals, special attention should be given to aspects of each property that may reflect this association. Similarly, where a property may have special cultural value to a social or ethnic group (e.g., a traditional ethnic neighborhood), its description should emphasize any aspects of the property that reflect its value to the group.

Surveyors should be alert to the archeological value of buildings and structures-that is, the information they contain. To an archeologist, a building or structure is a complex artifact, created and used by people for activities that reflect their social, cultural, and economic needs and interests. The construction and organization of the building or structure, its modification through time, and the evidence of activities that occurred in it may all be important. For example, the way a house is constructed may reveal things about the builder's perceptions of how space should be organized. Modifications of the floor plan during the life of the house may reveal how occupants at different times wished to organize their life-space in response to changes in social conditions, population size, economic status, technology (e.g., the introduction of electricity), and so on. The things left in and around the house by its past occupants-furniture, papers, wallpaper, graffiti-may reveal facets of their daily lives, interests, preferences, and beliefs. Not only may the things themselves contain such information but also their organization within the house may indicate things about the occupants' view of themselves and their world. The ways in which we organize and fill our living spaces can reveal a great deal about how we view ourselves and wish to be viewed by others. John Collier (see Bibliography) discusses methods used by anthropologists to record and analyze the ways in which living people organize their life-space and work-space. The same general methods can be applied to abandoned spaces, but the photographic methods used by anthropologists can be supplemented with measured drawings, maps, and plans. The importance of this information must then be evaluated within the broader context of our understanding of such cultural patterns and the existence of written documentary evidence.

The intensive survey should result in a detailed report form on each property, accompanied by appropriate photographs, drawings, and other documentation (see section on records, below).

Together with the results of archival research, these become the basis for evaluation and development of an inventory. The survey data produced by an intensive survey should also include basic categories of information similar to those collected during reconnaissance-specifying the kinds of properties sought, the boundaries of' the area(s) surveyed, the methods employed, the locations and boundaries of identified properties, and the locations and boundaries of areas found to be devoid of historic properties.

How is an intensive survey for archeological sites carried out?

An intensive archeological survey is preceded by the same kind of archival research discussed above with reference to reconnaissance, but the research may be more detailed and involve a greater variety of sources.

In the field, in a built-up urban situation, the intensive survey like the reconnaissance is focused on locations where archival research suggests the possibility that archeological sites will be preserved, but the effort to find and characterize them is more detailed. The extent to which excavations can be conducted will, of course, be determined by the distribution of buildings, streets, utilities, and other modern features overlying the area of interest, but the general intent of the fieldwork is not only to determine whether archeological sites do in fact exist but to learn enough about their internal characteristics and integrity to permit their evaluation.

Care should be taken not to let excavation get so extensive that it seriously disrupts the archeological site being studied. The purpose of excavation during survey is to obtain enough information to allow site's significance to be evaluated, not to recover all the date it contains. In some cases it is legitimate to fully recover the data a site contains as soon as it is discovered, but such cases are not the norm.

In a non-urban or suburban situation, intensive survey generally involves detailed inspection of the entire survey area. Unless there is a very good reason for believing that nothing of archeological importance could exist in a given area (e.g., records have been found demonstrating that the area has been completely bulldozed, or has been under-water until recently), all exposed land surfaces are carefully and systematically inspected under professional archeological supervision. Team members, trained to identify things that might indicate the presence of an archeological site in the area, are deployed in such a way as to insure inspection of all land surfaces. Typically, team members lined up 5 to 15 meters apart (the distance depending on visibility) walk over the land scanning the surface. If the surface is obscured y vegetation, special techniques must be used. The most common technique is shovel-testing, in which small holes are dug by each team member at regular intervals, and the contents inspected for artifacts, flakes of stone, bone, or other material that might indicate the presence of an archeological site. Power augers, backhoes, and other mechanized equipment are used in some instances. If the surface is obscured by leaves or other light cover, this may be effectively removed over large areas by raking or scraping. If the surface has been previously plowed, but is now fallow and covered with vegetation, replowing may improve visibility while doing minimal damage to any sites that may occur there. Plowing or other substantially disturbing techniques should not be used on previously undisturbed surfaces. When seeking sites that are likely to contain metal, metal detectors may be helpful, and more sensitive magnetometers can detect nonmetallic subsurface anomalies. Aerial survey, using fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters, satellite imagery, or air photos, may be helpful for detecting features that are difficult to spot on the ground.

Records should be kept of the areas surveyed, the methods employed in survey, and any factors that may have affected the resulting observations. All sites or other historic properties observed should be recorded on standard forms. (See section on forms below.) A final report should be prepared to document the kinds of properties sought, with the archival or other basis for defining and recognizing them, the methods used in archival research and fieldwork, the boundaries of the area(s) surveyed, the nature of the survey coverage, any factors that might influence the validity of the results, all properties recorded, their locations, descriptions, and probable archeological significance, and the locations and boundaries of any areas determined to be devoid of archeological sites, specifying the basis for each such determination.

The exact methods to be employed in any particular archeological survey, the exact techniques appropriate in the field, and the kinds of reports required, will vary with local circumstances and needs. The State Historic Preservation Officer should be consulted for advice and assistance, and the results of the survey should be made available for incorporation into the State historic preservation plan. For further information on archeological surveys, with special emphasis on nonurban situations, see The Archeological Survey: Methods and Uses (see Bibliography).

How can oral history or ethnography contribute to the survey?

Much of a community's or neighborhood's history may not be on record anywhere, but may be richly represented in the memories of its people, and its cultural and aesthetic values may be best represented in their thoughts, expressions, and ways of life. For this reason, it is often important to include an oral historical or ethnographic component in the survey. Both fields of study are based substantially on interviews with knowledgeable citizens: oral history focusses on straightforward recordation of their recollections, while ethnography is more concerned with contemporary cultural values, perceptions, and ways of life.

Oral historical and ethnographic research must be planned and carried out with the full knowledge and cooperation of community and neighborhood leaders and with sensitivity to their cultural backgrounds, values, and modes of expression.

Local college oral history, anthropology, and sociology programs may be of assistance in this aspect of the survey project. The American Folklore Society, the Oral History Association, and the Society for Applied Anthropology (See Chapter 1) are good sources of general information on oral history and ethnographic techniques.

An oral history project or an ethnographic study may be as complex and time consuming as the rest of the historic resources survey itself, and specialists in oral history or ethnography may have interests that, while worthwhile in themselves, are not directly pertinent to the survey. It is important to structure this component of the survey to ensure that the information gathered is as relevant as possible to the survey's goals, and to make sure that the gathering of oral data does not overwhelm the rest of the survey effort.

Typically, oral historical or ethnographic researchers meet at regular intervals with members of the community, individually or in groups, to discuss the history and other cultural aspects of those parts of the survey area currently being studied or soon to be studied in the field. It is also often useful to drive or walk through the survey area with knowledgeable residents of the community to obtain their comments on specific properties and areas. Unless informants object, sessions should usually be tape-recorded so that written descriptions can be transcribed and correlated with other survey information. In order to ensure accuracy of the transcripts, and to respect the confidentiality of informants, those interviewed should be given the opportunity to edit tapes or transcripts. To ensure maximum accuracy, verification of informants' accounts should be sought through interviews with multiple individuals and members of different groups, and through comparison with documentary and field survey data.


Governments responsible for relatively large land areas (large cities, counties, regions) may wish to consider preparing overviews before committing themselves to more detailed, focussed surveys. An overview is a document based on archival research alone, sometimes accompanied by very small-scale reconnaissance, that summarizes the history and prehistory of the area, analyzes the results of previous survey work and reaches conclusions about its quality, and seeks to make general predictions about which portions of the total study area are likely to contain different types of historic resources. These predictions can be used in general land-use planning, and can be tested and refined through further survey. Overviews can be extremely useful in the development of regional plans, in the early planning of land-use projects, in developing zoning and open-space plans, in planning for the long-range acquisition of parklands, and in making decisions on where to direct intensive survey efforts.

What kinds of data will be needed to evaluate historic resources?

Where a decision has been made to conduct an intensive survey, the Department of the Interior recommends that every effort be made to compile the kinds of information described in National Register bulletins entitled How to Complete the National Register Registration Form and How to Complete the National Register Multiple Property Documentation Form . Ideally, such information should be organized and recorded in a manner that is compatible with the National Register Information System (NRIS) and the data processing system used by the State Historic Preservation Officer. The State Historic Preservation Officer should be consulted about what kinds of information to record. If nomination to the National Register is one of the survey goals, it is advisable to review the documentation requirements for nominations or requests for determinations of eligibility at the beginning of the survey, to make certain that all necessary information is collected in a form that can readily be transferred to National Register forms at a later date. An outline of the information required by the National Register is provided in a later section on this page, and lists of the data categories used in the National Register Information System are provided in Appendix VI.

The following kinds of information recorded on each property identified should provide an adequate data base for making accurate decisions about the property's significance.

1. Resource Name

This is the primary name by which the resource is known. The historic name is most often used in indexing and filing as it will continue to be meaningful regardless of changes in occupancy or use. The historic name may refer to the original owner or builder; significant persons or events associated with the property; original or later significant uses of the property; innovative or unusual characteristics of the property; or accepted professional, scientific, technical, or traditional names.

Archeological sites, if their historic names (for example, the name of an Indian village recorded in the ethnographic literature) are not known, are generally named for the nearby geographic feature, an aspect of cultural significance, their locations, or their owners.

2. Other Name/Site Number

This may be a common name or other secondary name used to refer to the property, or a number or number-letter code assigned to the property. The common name is the name by which the property is currently known. Most States have a site numbering system whose use will facilitate integration with State survey data.

3. Address/Location

Where a property has a street address, this should be recorded.

If a road has a route number rather than a name, indicate whether it is a State, county, or Federal road.

If the property does not have a street address, identify the location by recording the names of the nearest roads or, if there are no nearby roads, by referring to the Universal Transverse Mercator Grid System. (See item 11, Geographical Data.) Township, range and section, or description of the property's relationship to nearby roads or natural features may also be used to indicate location.

Where a property is large, for example in the case of an archeological site or historic district, the rough boundaries of the property should be described or an inclusive list of street addresses given.

If locational information should be restricted-that is, if access to it should be permitted only to specified users-this should be noted. Restricting access is appropriate (and permitted by Federal law) where revealing the location of a property to the public could result in vandalism or despoliation. Access to information on the locations of archeological sites is often restricted because of the danger that vandals and artifact collectors could destroy or damage the site searching for artifacts.

5. Owner

It is advisable to record both the category of ownership (i.e., Federal government, State government, local government, private) and the name(s) and address(es) of the actual owner(s).

6. Resource Type

The resource should be classified as to whether it is a site, building, structure, object, historic district, or part of a historic district; National Register definitions of resource categories may be found in the Introduction. If a property consisting of more than one resource is documented on a survey form, such as a farmhouse and outbuildings, the number of elements of each resource type should be noted (e.g., 2 buildings and 3 structures).

7. Location of Legal Description

The location of the legal description of the property, which is usually filed with the land records in the county courthouse or local planning and zoning commission or surveyor's office, may be used to trace chain of title, and is sometimes useful in legal actions involving the property.

8. Representation in Existing Surveys

It is useful to note whether the property is included in the State Historic Preservation Officer's statewide survey of historic properties; in inventories compiled by Federal agencies of properties under their jurisdiction or control, or in the environmental impact area of their projects; in the Historic American Buildings Survey; the Historic American Engineering Records; the National Historic Landmarks program; or in any other local, State, or private survey. Locating existing surveys can save duplication of time and effort in gathering survey data and in correlating data produced by the current survey with other documentation on the property. It may also be useful to indicate whether the property is a locally designated landmark or is part of a locally designated district.

9. Description of Property

Sufficient data should be gathered to give a professional description of the physical appearance and condition of properties. For individual buildings, structures, or objects, this information may include:

a. Type of structure (dwelling, church, factory, etc.)

b. Building placement (detached, row, etc.)

c. General characteristics:

Overall shape of plan (rectangle, ell, etc.)
Number of stories
Structural system
Number of vertical divisions or bays
Construction materials (brick, stone, etc.) and wall finish (kind of bond, coursing, shingle, etc.)
Roof shape

d. Specific features including location, number, and appearance of:

porches (verandas, stoops, attached sheds, etc.)
other important or visually prominent exterior features

e. Materials of roof, foundation, walls, and other important features.

f. Important decorative elements

g. Interior features contributing to the character of the building.

h. Number, type, and location of outbuildings, as well as dates of their construction.

i. Important features of the immediate environment such as roadways, landscaping, etc.

If a property has been moved, the following information is helpful in assessing historical integrity:

a. Date of move

b. Descriptions or original and present locations

c. Distance the property has been moved

d. Methods employed in moving the property (if known)

e. Explanation of the effect of the move on the historical integrity of the property and upon its new location, with particular reference to the relationships between its original and current orientations, locations, and settings.

f. Reason for the move.

Known alterations should be noted with appropriate dates, if available. Preparation of a floor plan sketch with original portions and later additions clearly marked may be useful for properties that have been altered many times.

Where possible, buildings and structures should be classified with reference to the architectural styles they represent. The architectural classification system used by the National Register Information System is provided in Appendix VI. If the style does not fall into any particular category, major stylistic elements may be noted. Regional or vernacular forms should be identified by the most commonly used or generally accepted terminology. Terms not commonly known should be defined.

Where a known person was responsible for designing or building the property, his or her name should be recorded.

Where a building or structure contains artifacts, equipment, furnishings, papers, interior modifications, or other characteristics that could provide useful information about its construction or use, or about the activities of its occupants or users, the nature and locations of such material should be recorded. If such materials have been removed from the property, for example to a local archive or museum, this should be noted.

For archeological sites, appropriate information may include:

a. Site type (e.g., midden, rockshelter, flake scatter, historic factory, etc.).

b. Vertical and horizontal extent of the site and methods by which these boundaries have been defined.

c. The immediate surrounding environment, both as it probably was when the site was in use and as it is today.

d. Any disrupting influence (urban development, roads, agriculture) at work on or immediately around the site.

e. Descriptions (or summaries) of known data on internal characteristics: stratigraphy, artifact classes and their distribution, structural remains, faunal and floral remains, materials useful for assigning the site to a chronological period, etc.

f. Extent and nature of any excavation, testing, surface collecting, etc.

g. Descriptions of any standing or ruined structures or buildings that might be of architectural or historic importance.

h. References to any known ethnographic or historical descriptions of the site when it was occupied or in use.

i. A list of pertinent previous investigations at the site, if any, indicating dates, sponsoring institutions or organizations, and bibliographic references.

j. Quality and intensity of survey that resulted in recording the site and limitations this may impose on the data available for purposes of evaluation.

Historic site descriptions should include the preceding information where relevant, and should also identify:

a. The present condition of the site and its environment.

h. Any natural features, such as bodies of water, trees, cliffs, promontories, etc., that contributed to the selection of the site for the event or activity that gives it significance.

c. Other natural features that characterized the site at the time the event or activity took place.

d. Any evidence that remains on the site from the event or activity that gives the site its significance.

e. The extent and kind of alterations that have affected the site, and their effect on its integrity.

f. How the current physical environment and remains of the site reflect the period and associations for which the site is significant.

Sites of cultural value to American Indians or other social groups should be described with reference to the above items where they are pertinent, but special attention should be given to the qualities of the property that contribute to its importance in the eyes of those who ascribe value to it. For example, if the traditional origins of an American Indian tribe are associated with a particular configuration of rocks on a site, special attention should be given to describing them.

If an architectural or historic district is identified, it is useful to compile the following information:

a. General description of the natural and manmade elements of the district: structures, buildings, sites, objects, prominent geographical features, density of development.

b. Numbers of buildings, structures, and objects that do and do not contribute to the district.

c. General description of types, styles, or periods of architecture represented in the district: scale, proportions, materials, color, decoration, workmanship, design quality.

d. General physical relationships of buildings to each other and to the environment: facade lines, street plans, parks, squares, open spaces, structural density, plantings, and important natural features (some of this information may be recorded on sketch maps).

e. General description of the district during the period(s) when it achieved significance.

f. Present and original uses of buildings (commercial, residential, etc.) and any adaptive uses.

g. General condition of buildings: restoration or rehabilitation activities, alterations.

h. Noncontributing elements: the number of noncontributing buildings, structures, and objects should be given, and each such property identified.

i. Qualities that make the district distinct from its surroundings. Where the social or cultural characteristics of the area's residents contribute to the district's character, these should be included.

j. A list of all buildings, structures, and objects (or inclusive street addresses) that do and do not contribute to the character of the district.

k. Any archeological sites identified within the district's boundaries, including both those that contribute to the significance of the district and those whose significance is derived from qualities unrelated to the district.

l. Concise boundary description: streets, property lines, geographical features, etc,, that separate the district from its surroundings, with an explanation of the basis for establishing the boundary.

If a commercial or industrial district is identified, the above information should be compiled to the extent it is available and relevant: in addition, it is useful to record the following:

a. General description of the industrial activities and processes taking place within the district, important natural and geographical features, and power sources

b. General description of original machinery still in place

c. General description of linear systems within the district (canals, railroads, roads) and their terminal points, with approximate length and width of area to be encompassed in the district.

If a rural district containing buildings or structures of historic or architectural significance is identified, in addition to recording the above data as relevant, it is useful to compile the following information:

a. General description of geographical and topographical features (valleys, bodies of water, soil conditions, climate, changes in elevation, vistas, etc.) that convey a sense of cohesiveness.

b. General description of buildings and structures, including outbuildings, within the district boundaries, usually with special attention to characteristics indicative of vernacular or folk types of design and construction, to the activities housed in each such building or structure, and to the equipment and other material remaining in each.

c. General description of manmade features of the environment and their relationship to the qualities that give the district its significance.

If an archeological district is identified, besides gathering the above data where pertinent, the following information should be recorded:

a. General description of the natural and manmade elements of the district: structures, buildings, sites, objects, prominent geographical features, density of development.

b. Number of contributing sites, with a description of each.

c. Number of noncontributing sites, with a description of each.

d. General description of the cultural, historic, or other relationships among the sites in the district that make the district a cohesive unit for investigation.

e. General description of the data categories and research values represented in the district.

f. Identification of any non-archeological

characteristics of the district that may contribute to its significance (e.g., cultural value to American Indian groups).

g. General condition of sites and extent to which archeological intersite contexts remain intact.

h. Assessment of the extent to which the area within the district boundaries has been adequately surveyed.

i. Summary of the nature and level of damage the sites within the district have received or are receiving.

10. Significance

In most cases, the significance of any one resource cannot be fully evaluated until the historic contexts for the survey area have been developed and some reasonably comparable level of documentation on other resources in the survey project area has been gathered. During the survey, however, the surveyor should record the qualities of each property that relate it to the historic contexts of the survey area and may make it significant keeping in mind the criteria for determining significance. In addition, the surveyor may recognize qualities in a property that appear to be unique or significant, and these observations may be recorded for future reference and evaluation.

A statement of significance, whether designed to show that a property is or is not significant, should be developed as a reasoned argument, first identifying the historic context or contexts to which the property could relate, next discussing the property types within the context and their relevant characteristics, and then showing how the property in question does or does not have the characteristics required to qualify it as part of the context.

The areas in which a property may be significant should be recorded on the survey form and supported in the statement of significance. Area of significance is derived from the relevant historic contexts and the criteria for which the property may be important, for example, commerce or architecture. The areas of significance used by the National Register program can be found in Appendix VI.

The exact information needed to evaluate significance will depend on the historic context. In most cases information falling into the following categories will be needed and should be recorded:

a. Historically significant events and/or patterns of activity associated with the property.

b. Periods of time during which the property was in use.

c. Specific dates or period of time when the resource achieved its importance (e.g., date of construction, date of a specific event, period of association with an important person, period of an important activity).

d. Historically significant persons associated with the property (e.g., its tenants, visitors, owner).

e. Representation of a style, period, or method of construction.

f. Persons responsible for the design or construction of the property.

g. Quality of style, design, or workmanship.

h. Historically or culturally significant group associated with the property, and the nature of its association.

I. Information which the property has yielded or may be likely to yield (especially for archeological sites and districts).

j. Cultural affiliation (for archeological sites and districts).


The following definitions are used by the National Register to classify the resources making up a property as contributing or noncontributing.

The physical characteristics and historic significance of the overall property provide the basis for evaluating component resources. Specific information about each resource, such as date, function, associations, information potential, and physical characteristics, can then be related to the overall property to determine whether or not the component resource contributes. Resources that do not relate in a significant way to the overall property may contribute if they independently meet the National Register criteria.

A contributing building, site, structure, or object adds to the historic architectural qualities, historic associations, or archeological values for which a property is significant because a) it was present during the period of significance, and possesses historic integrity reflecting its character at that time or is capable of yielding important information about the period, or b) it independently meets the National Register criteria.

A noncontributing building, site, structure, or object does not add to the historic architectural qualities, historic associations, or archeological values for which a property is significant because a) it was not present during the period of significance, b) due to alterations, disturbances, additions, or other changes, it no longer possesses historic integrity reflecting its character at that time or is incapable of yielding important information about the period, or c) it does not independently meet the National Register criteria.

11. Geographical Data

The acreage of the property should be determined and recorded as accurately as possible.

The location of the property should be determined according to the Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) Grid System. The UTM system is recommended because of its accuracy, its universality, and its compatibility with automated data systems. The property should be located on a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) map (7.5 or 15 minute series), and the UTM coordinates for the location recorded. One reference point centered on the property is sufficient for properties less than ten acres in size; for larger properties, at least three reference points corresponding to the major points delineating the property's boundaries should be recorded. For an explanation of the UTM system, see the National Park Service publication, Using the UTM Grid System to Record Historic Sites.

Geographical data should include a verbal boundary description precisely defining the boundaries of the property surveyed. It may be in the form of a tax parcel number, a city lot number, a sequence of metes and bounds, a legal property description, or the dimensions of the parcel of land fixed upon a given point such as the intersection of two streets. Where it is difficult to establish fixed reference points such as roads or property lines, as in rural areas, descriptions may be based on a series of UTM reference points or on the section grid appearing on the USGS map. An explanation, or justification, of why a particular boundary was chosen should be recorded.

12. Other Documentation

If additional documentation on the resources is available beyond that recorded on the basic survey recording form (e.g., survey files, records with the State Historic Preservation Officer, publications, HABS/HAER records), each known source of such documentation should be recorded.

Records of historic properties should contain bibliographies referencing the sources used in preparing the records. Author, full title, date, and location of publication should be recorded. For an article, list the magazine or journal from which it was taken, volume number, and date. For unpublished manuscripts, indicate where copies are available. Interviews should be listed with the name of the person interviewed and date of the interview.

13. Researcher

Names and qualifications of persons directly involved in compiling information on the property should be recorded.

14. Photographs

At least one photograph of each property should be included in the survey data. Photographs can be used to document the property's condition and physical appearance, and to illustrate important features of the property. They can be used to check field observations and to provide visual evidence of historical, architectural, or aesthetic significance. The number of photographs needed to provide adequate coverage will vary according to the nature and significance of the property. For buildings and structures, at least one photograph showing the principal facades and environment in which the property is located should be included. Interior views are generally not needed, unless significance is primarily based on interior features.


Certain kinds of information are required for documenting properties nominated to the National Register of Historic Places or considered for determinations of eligibility for listing. The following list itemizes the required information as it is requested on the National Register of Historic Places Registration Form. If one of the survey goals is to register significant properties, effort and care should be made to ensure that information collected during survey meets the National Register documentation requirements and can easily be transferred to the National Register form. Because the National Register form is compatible with the National Register Information System, standardized data categories have been formulated for entering information pertaining to certain items. These items are identified below by an asterisk and include function and use, architectural classification, materials, and areas of significance. Appendix VI provides lists of the categories used by the National Register to complete these items. For further information on completing National Register forms, consult the National Register bulletins entitled How to Complete the National Register Registration Form and How to Complete the National Register Multiple Property Documentation Form.

1. Name of Property

Historic name

Other names/site number

2. Location

Address (including street & number, city or town, state and code, county and code, and zip code)

Not for publication (to be indicated when access to information on location should be restricted)

Vicinity (to be used when property is not located in a town or city)

3. Classification

Ownership of property (private, public-local, public-State, and/or public-Federal)

Category of property (buildings), district, site, structure, or object)

Number of contributing resources within property (by resource type)

Number of noncontributing resources within property (by resource type)

Number of contributing resources previously listed in the National Register

Name of related multiple property listing, if any

4. State/Federal Agency Certification (to be completed by State and/or Federal officials during registration process)

5. National Park Service Certification (to be completed by the National Park Service)

6. Function or Use*

Historic functions*

Current functional*

7. Description

Architectural classification*

Materials (foundation, walls, roof, other)*

Narrative describing the property's present and historic physical appearance

8. Statement of Significance

Level at which evaluation has taken place (nationally, statewide, locally)

Applicable National Register criteria (A, B, C, and/or D)

Criteria considerations, if any apply

Area(s) of significance*

Period(s) of significance

Significant dates

Cultural affiliation (for archeology)

Architect, builder

Significant person

Narrative stating the significance of the property and justifying the applicable criteria, criteria considerations, and areas and periods of significance.

9. Major Bibliographical References

References (including books, articles, interviews, surveys, etc.)

Previous documentation on file at the National Park Service (including listings or determinations of eligibility for listing in the National Register, designations of National Historic Landmarks, and recordings by HABS/HAER).

Primary location of additional data (such as State Historic Preservation Office, other State agency, Federal agency, local government, university, or other) and specific name of repository.

10. Geographical Data

Acreage of property

UTM references (one is required for properties smaller than 10 acres; at least 3 for larger properties)

Verbal boundary description

Boundary justification

11. Identification of person who prepared the form (including name, title, organization, address, and telephone number) and date.

See Appendix VI for the standardized data categories used to complete these items.

What additional planning information may be gathered in the survey process?

Information on the historic, architectural, or cultural significance of resources is most useful in guiding future community development if it is integrated with other kinds of planning information. This information, which is listed below, may already have been gathered through other planning studies or it may be gathered as part of the historic resources survey. Because the expertise necessary to gather much of this information is different from that necessary for the' historic resources survey, it may be more effective to gather the information in a project separate from the historic resources survey. If this option is chosen, the two projects should be carefully coordinated.

Structural Information on Individual Buildings

A determination of the structural condition of individual buildings should be based on an examination of:

a. Exterior condition of walls, roof, chimneys, window and door openings, gutters and downspouts, stairs, porches.

b. Interior condition of foundations and basements, beams, joists and piers, flooring, walls and ceilings, window frames and doors.

c. Conditon of mechanical systems for plumbing, electricity, and heating. Condition of original construction and any subsequent alterations, adequacy of fire prevention and control measures, condition and adequacy of elevator facilities (if available).

d. Estimated cost of bringing building to code.

Physical/Development Factors Affecting Buildings or Neighborhoods:

a. Threats to area/building (vandalism, demolition, neglect).

b. Public and private development plans.

c. Rehabilitation work (being considered, under way, completed, now planned).

d. Land use/zoning.

e. Density.

f. Transportation routes and facilities.

g. Municipal services (utilities, sewer, police, etc.).

h. Parking.

i. Setbacks.

j. Floor area.

k. Occupancy limitations.

1. Designation of critical environmental areas or protected features.

m. Areas that are red-lined or receive less favorable treatment from lending institutions.

n. Existing easements or legal encumbrances.

o. Current assessed evaluation (land, improvements, total).

Socioeconomic Character of Area:

a. Income level of residents or tenants.

b. Tax rates and base.

c. Amount of ownership versus rental.

d. Community institutions (civic, religious, educational).

e. Real estate trends.

Planning Information for Archeological Sites:

a. Accessibility of site

b. Potential for interpretation to the public.

c. Local attitudes toward protection, use, or excavation of site.

d. Likely development pressures on the site.

e. Potential for natural deterioration (through erosion, soil chemistry changes, etc.).

Forms, maps, photographs: How should survey data be recorded?

Before beginning training sessions and the survey itself, methods of recording survey data need to be established. Generally, most data gathered during the survey are recorded on standardized forms and maps, with photographs, supplemented by sketches and additional records.

Survey Forms

Most State historic preservation programs have developed standard survey forms for their statewide surveys. The use of these forms at the local level is most desirable, as it facilitates integration of the information into statewide survey and nomination of properties to the National Register.

The kinds of forms used depend on the intensity of the survey, the kinds of properties to be recorded, the degree of expertise of those conducting the survey, and other factors unique to each survey. As a result, communities may wish to adapt State survey forms to their particular needs. If this is done, care should be exercised to ensure that consistency is maintained in the description of key elements used by the State in data storage and retrieval.

Most survey forms fall into three main categories:

1. A multiple choice checklist with or without illustrations, often in the form of a card coded for automated data processing.

2. One or more sheets presenting a series of questions or categories of information requiring brief written responses.

3. One or (usually) more sheets presenting a series of general questions or categories requiring more lengthy responses.

The multiple choice checklist may be useful if:

  • the survey is a reconnaissance,

  • volunteers without extensive training are conducting the survey,

  • a limited range of resources are thought to be present (e.g., buildings representing only a few architectural styles), or

  • a limited range of resources is being sought (as in some theme-focussed surveys).

For an intensive survey, however, this type of form is seldom appropriate, because it is virtually impossible to incorporate the complex variability represented by a whole range of historic properties into a simple checklist. Although checklist forms are useful especially for architectural information, many buildings and their architectural and decorative features defy classification under the categories generally provided. Checklists may be useful for describing individual buildings within districts, but they are seldom useful for describing districts as wholes, because they do not provide a mechanism for recording a district's overall environment, its social characteristics, and its other unique features. For archeological sites, checklists are often useful for noting the presence or absence of particular predictable features and artifacts, but usually must be supplemented by substantial verbal description to record stratigraphy, size, and other unique characteristics. Cultural landscapes, too, whether designed or created by recurrent land-use practices, are usually too complicated, and contain too many unique features, to be accurately captured in a checklist. Transcribing data from the checklist into a narrative description, like those required by the National Register and most State registers, can be difficult because much of the information needed for narrative description either cannot be derived at all from the checklist format or can be derived only through extrapolation and interpretation, increasing the potential for error.

Forms that have a series of questions or categories generally require a certain amount of expertise. Since the forms do not spell out elements to be identified, the surveyors themselves must be able to prepare complete and accurate property descriptions; they must be particularly careful to include all major elements of the property in the description. These forms do allow for the description of unique elements of particular properties or areas that would normally not be specified on a checklist form.

Longer and more complicated response forms. such as those used by the National Register, require a higher degree of expertise in completing the documentation. Information for these forms may be derived from shorter checklist forms or from other rough survey data.

As a result of these differences, it is often desirable to use a variety of forms in a given survey, for example, using flexible response forms like those of the National Register for recording districts and structures or buildings that may be individually significant, using tailored combinations of categorical questions and checklist items for archeological sites and other properties having some predictable and some less predictable characteristics, and using checklists for the description of individual buildings and structures making up a particular district.

Forms are seldom sufficient in themselves for recording survey data. They should be supplemented by more general, flexible notes to record general environmental and contextual data, information on survey conditions, and supplementary data. Each surveyor should keep a log or diary to record general observations and supplementary information about the progress of the survey and about the property or area being studied, such as its general architectural and social characteristics, anticipated effects of proposed or possible development, ideas for the adaptive use of particular buildings, names of local contacts with particular information, names of interested local citizens, and miscellaneous historical or archeological information. Unless they are recorded on the scene, such observations are usually lost to those who might benefit from them or find them useful at a later date.

Field Maps

Surveyors will need maps to use as guides during the onsite orientation and to use as worksheets during the field survey. A master map can be prepared for these purposes by annotating an existing small-scale map of the community or county. In cases where areas or properties to be surveyed have already been determined, these should be delineated on the map. Sites discovered through historical research, that should be investigated during the field survey, may be pinpointed on the map.

The base maps used in most historic resources surveys are U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) 7.5 minute and 15 minute quadrangle maps. USGS quads are used by most State Historic Preservation Officers and Federal agencies to locate and record historic resources in their inventories. These maps show topography, natural features, roads, buildings, and structures in rural areas, latitude and longitude lines, and township, range, and section lines. Importantly, most have Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) grid tics, which allow historic properties to be accurately plotted and their locations recorded for future retrieval and analysis, especially using automated data processing. USGS maps can often be obtained locally; if not, an index to available maps may be obtained by writing the U.S. Geological Survey, Sunrise Valley Drive, Reston, VA 20021.

For urban areas, however, it will be necessary to supplement USGS quads with more detailed local maps. USGS quads show built-up areas merely as pink blotches, with only major streets marked. As a result, although USGS quads should be used to help relate the local survey to such larger-scale efforts as the statewide comprehensive survey, surveyors in urban areas will find other, usually locally produced maps more useful for field use and as base maps. Detailed maps of most large cities can be obtained from city planning agencies. Other sources of useful maps include State highway departments, local preservation commissions, regional planning agencies, local highway commissions, and realtors.


Photographs are an essential part of survey data. Whether photographs are taken by field surveyors or professional photographers, the 35 mm camera probably provides the most flexible format for survey purposes. Some 35 mm cameras can be equipped with a perspective-correction lens, which, when properly used, helps eliminate perspective-induced distortion in photographs of structures. (This lens is best used by an experienced photographer.) The use of slightly wide-angle (35 mm) or normal (50 mm) lenses allows photographers to take shots of entire buildings or whole facades. Fast lenses allow for the best use of available light and good recording of details.

While black and white prints are appropriate for survey documentation, other photographic forms may be useful supplements to the basic records of individual properties.

  • Color slides may be useful as supplemental documentation for evaluating properties. Although not a substitute for black and white prints, slides can be used in public presentations to generate local interest in the survey project and in historic resources.

  • For quick identification, a contact print or Polaroid photograph identified by name and number may be affixed to the field survey form.

  • Videotapes may be useful in quickly capturing the social and architectural characteristics of historic districts or landscapes.

    It is essential that a practical system be established for numbering, processing, and filing photographs in such a way that they can be easily identified, correlated with forms, systematically filed, and retrieved. The most common approach is to assign a unique number to each roll of film, and to maintain a log indicating the subject of each frame on each roll, by roll and frame number. Film should be kept in a central place and assigned a number as it is signed out to avoid the possibility of assigning the same number to two rolls. Each photographer then logs in his or her photos, recording for each shot the roll number, the frame number, and such information as the property name and location, the direction of the view (e.g., northwest corner of building; view across site from southeast), detail included (e.g., front porch; rock feature), and other details concerning the property or the exposure. Photo roll and exposure numbers should also be entered on property recording forms for cross reference purposes. General views of streets or open space areas should be recorded with appropriate locational information and names or numbers of individual properties included in the picture.

    It is a helpful check on paper records to place a marker in the view being photographed when the photograph is taken. This should indicate the subject and other relevant data (view, detail, date). Cards or pieces of cardboard with such information written in magic marker can be used for this purpose, though a more professional product is obtained using a menu board with plastic letters and numbers. It is also often helpful to include a scale marker (for example, a meter stick-a piece of lath one meter long, marked in 10-cm increments) and a north indicator (in archeological convention, a wooden or plastic arrow or a trowel) in the photo.

    Photos and especially negatives should be carefully filed under conditions that will minimize their deterioration, and according to a system that will make it easy to retrieve them. It is often most convenient to retain the roll and exposure number as a basic index number for the print and negative frame, sometimes with an additional accession number to identify the area or the survey that produced the photo. Photo logs should be retained permanently as part of the survey data, on computer or in the form of logbooks or card files. It is wise to consult the State Historic Preservation Officer for advice about photo recording, filing, and retrieval systems.

    What equipment will be needed for survey work?

    Equipment for each survey team may include some or all of the following:
    • clipboards, spiral notebooks (for logs and general notes).
    • supply of pens, pencils, and magic markers
    • field survey forms
    • USGS quadrangles) and UTM counter
    • other relevant map(s)
    • tape measures (each surveyor is usually equipped with a 3-meter or 10-foot tape, and each team with a 30-meter, 50-meter, 50-foot or 100-foot tape).
    • compass
    • camera(s)
    • black and white film
    • color slide film
    • official identification
    • letter of introduction explaining survey
    • additional lenses for camera (wide angle, telephoto, perspective correction).
    Survey teams concentrating on architectural resources may also need an appropriate style manual (e.g., one developed for the survey itself, or by the State Historic Preservation Officer, or a general guide such as McAlester, McGee, or Whitten [see Bibliography]).

    Archeological survey teams will usually need at least trowels, and in some cases will require augers or posthole diggers, shovels, or such power equipment as motorized augers or backhoes. In some cases, it will be useful to equip teams with guides to local artifact types or types of architectural elements indicative of different time periods or building functions.

    Survey teams engaging in oral history or ethnographic recording will probably need tape recorders or videotape equipment.

    The survey coordinator will also need to consider what sort of equipment may be appropriate for transporting the survey teams into and around their survey areas. Intensive surveys are usually done on foot, but teams must still be transported to and from their survey locations. If municipal transport is not sufficient for this purpose, the survey teams will need access to automobiles, bicycles, or some other mode of transport.

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