Research Resource: National Register of Historic Places Nomination Forms

Many are familiar with the National Register of Historic Places. A good resource for research is the set of nomination forms for places on the Register. These are available from the National Park Service at the address on this page.

The Park Service hopes eventually to have all of the nomination forms online. But until then, a e-mail to the Park Service will get you the materials. They responded to my e-mail within a day or two and sent me materials in less than three weeks. I was not charged for the material.

So what does one get? Well, I sent for the nomination package for Buena Vista, the plantation in De Soto Parish, Louisiana, where my Brayboy, LeJay, and probably Gines, ancestors were held in bondage by the Boykin Witherspoon family. The nomination papers included a written statement of significance prepared by the nominator. This statement described the property and included an historical note that contained a transcription of the1859 contract to build the estate. There were also three pages of photographs and two pages of diagrams.

Information similar to this can be found in the nomination papers of any of the properties on the National Register. If your family had any connection to a National Register property, these papers may add to your understanding of the family.

Craig

3 Responses to “Research Resource: National Register of Historic Places Nomination Forms”

  • Janice says:

    Craig,

    I don’t think most folks realize you don’t have to be the owner of a property to nominate it.

    Janice

  • Craig Manson says:

    That’s a good point, Janice. Most properties are nominated by someone other than the owner.

  • E S Mills says:

    Craig,

    Thanks for calling attention to this source. May I add a word of caution also? Many users of the National Register nomination forms and Historical American Buildings Survey’s narrative reports assume them to be The Gospel According to the Experts. Nothing could be further from reality.

    Like other derivative sources, these papers are valuable as a starting point. The HABS narratives (but often not the nomination forms) also cite sources to one degree or another. That is useful but, in and of itself, relatively meaningless. As with all derivative accounts, we need to use those narratives (and whatever citations) as a *starting point.* And we make a serious mistake if we assume that the interpretation offered in these accounts are based on a study of all relevant sources or that the writers have correctly interpreted the records they did find.

    As a case at point, many years ago, my late husband and I (being both historians and genealogists) were employed by a preservation society, at the insistence of its attorney, to research a historical property the society had acquired. What we did not know was that the society’s restoration architect had, just two weeks earlier, submitted a National Register application based entirely on local legend. When the historical investigation revealed a seriously different history for the site, the society decided it would rather not ‘create problems for the application’ by submitting corrections.

    The National Register application passed, an interested party in a different DC office then nominated the property for National Historic Landmark status, and she copied the details from the architect’s NR Form 10-300. That Landmark status was also awarded.

    The narratives publicized for both listings continue, to this day, putting forth the myth instead of the documented history. Subsequent archaeological research supports the historical evidence; and that team of scholars, as well as my late husband and I, have presented and published innumerable papers–individually and jointly–to correct the record. It’s been an uphill battle. When tourism interests have a successful thing going, they don’t like to lose their stories.

    This incident is not a random exception. Across three decades of researching many such sites, I’ve found innumerable other situations. Sometimes, as with the above, the problem lies with the preference for local lore rather than documented facts. In other cases, particularly with the HABS narratives, the problem exists because contracts are given to historians who are not only limited in the amount of time they can invest in the project but are unschooled in the use of local-history and genealogical sources.

    The bottom line, obviously, is that this wonderful set of “records” is like all other: We can’t just take what’s said at face value. We can’t assume that the “history” must be correct or the historical designation would not have been awarded.


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