Help:Researching early baseball

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Not all contributors to this project have deep experience in digging into local sources of information on ballplaying. This brief guide offers suggestions from some members of the SABR Origins Committee who have, usually through painful trial and error, found their way to local paydirt.


[edit] What are the most useful data sources on early local ballplaying?

It seems likely that period newspapers will tell you most about when and how modern baseball arrived in a particular locality. Such newspapers may be housed in local historical associations or in local libraries. Some, but by no means all, papers may have been digitized and can thus be searched electronically (see the section on online sources below). The rest may be inspected on microfilm or microfiche (usually attached to nearby printers) or, more rarely, in collections of the original issues themselves.

When base ball was new, US cities -- and even towns of modest size -- typically had more than one newspaper. Baseball coverage could vary greatly among papers. Often a ball club had an affiliation with a particular paper and was given more space there. Don’t give up if the first newspaper you examine seems to ignore baseball.

When approaching library personnel who are familiar with local information sources, it is worth asking them if a local history of baseball – published or unpublished -- already exists. They may also recall whether someone else has already shown a research interest in the local roots of baseball. Doubtless there are other data sources beyond old newspapers – diaries, collections of letters, etc. – but it may be more difficult to locate them and to scour their contents for baseball finds (unless they have been digitized). Still, it's worth asking about them.

Another possible resource is a town or city historian, if one has been appointed.

[edit] Which online sources are most helpful?

It may be useful to try some online searches before approaching local sources:

  • A broad web search may yield a lucky hit at very low cost
  • Google Books searches may lead you to publications you wouldn’t otherwise know about – and many of the older ones show full text that can be searched electronically and downloaded.
  • One list of digitized newspapers is the University of Pennsylvania's list of Historical Newspapers Online.
  • Other newspapers and other historical documents can be found on genealogical and other websites that charge subscriptions fees. Some examples:

[edit] Online search tactics

One of the hurdles in doing online searches on the beginnings of base ball is that so many of the game’s terms are so common in English usage: unhappily, “base,” “ball,” “bat,” “run, “game,” “match,” “town,” “round,” and “play” all have multiple everyday meanings. We asked some successful online detectives for some tips, and pass them along here:

[edit] For finding material on base ball when the New York game was flowering

  • Use base-ball, base ball, bass ball, and baste ball as well as baseball.
  • Try game of ball, game at ball, ball game, match game, ball club.
  • Some baseball-specific terms might help: inning[s], short stop, short-stop, pitcher, catcher, new york game, knickerbocker.

[edit] For finding material on ballplaying in earlier years

  • Some names of prior ballgames include: round ball, wicket, wicket ball, town ball, cricket, old cat, o’cat and lesser games including long town, bat and ball, bat ball, chermany, round cat, cat ball, old fashioned base ball..
  • Also worth a try: play ball, play at ball, prohibit ball, ball ground, cat.
  • We maintain a list of names on this page: Games that preceded baseball.

[edit] Where can I find period newspapers?

Historical newspaper collections are typically housed in state or local historical societies, local public libraries, and state-level libraries or archives. The easiest way to locate old newspaper coverage of ballplaying is through an internet search. Many of the organizations have websites, and many have put their catalogs online. Microfilm collections are often catalogued separately, so it isn’t obvious what an organization’s total holdings are. Some libraries also have a separate local history collection, which may have its own catalog. An advance letter or phone call can usually clarify matters, if the organization is not nearby.

[edit] What else can historical societies and libraries provide?

It is often possible to find librarians or historical society members with considerable local expertise – many not themselves knowledgeable about ballplaying – who are eager to share their insights about finding what you need. Enlist their aid in finding material such as historic maps to locate ball fields, local regimental histories and rosters, etc. They may be able to help reveal the occupations and community standing of early ballplayers. And they are the ones who will know about any special collections, like diaries, letters, and photographs.

[edit] I've found information, now how do I submit it?

See the Encyclopedia's help page on submitting research to the spread project!

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