The criteria for inclusion in the Network to Freedom are meant to establish a certain level of legitimacy, accountability, and accuracy in telling the Underground Railroad story. They have been designed, however, to be inclusive and flexible to include as wide a range of elements as possible.
Any element nominated to the Network must have a verifiable association to the Underground Railroad. These associations to the Underground Railroad must be verified using professional methods of historical research, documentation and interpretation. Supporting evidence must be documented in the application through specific citations that would allow the reader to recreate the research.
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Places that are ineligible for the National Register or that do not have a determination yet,may be eligible for the Network if they have a demonstrated and verified association to the Underground Railroad, and some type of interpretation such as a commemorative or interpretive marker, educational program, brochure or site bulletin. The purpose of this requirement is to provide the public with some sort of contextual reference for understanding the significance of the site. The site must be identified by name and a statement that identifies its Underground Railroad association. Interpretation at a site that lacks integrity for eligibility to the National Register can take many forms: interpretation by skilled guides, interpretive wayside exhibits, plaques and/or brochures.
Sites on the National Register of Historic Places are not required to have an interpretive component to be eligible for inclusion in the Network. Because they physically look like historic places, they are able to convey a sense of the history better than a place where a completely modern building has been constructed on the site. Although not required, sites that are listed in the National Register are encouraged to develop interpretive signs or materials.