A Guide to (Offline) Treasure Hunting Research

Offline Research (yes this means NOT using the internet)

With the almost daily advances of internet in the area of data gathering, distribution, and consumption, the amateur modern day treasure hunter has more raw data, maps, satellite images and historical documents available to them then most Governments did only a decade ago. Today we have access to tools such as Google Maps, whee view updated high def. satellite images of our hunting ground, then with the slide of your muse we can see the same area viewed 10, 15 and some times even 25+ years in the past -see bottom of post for a how too. Also we can find tons of digitized historical archives, everything from battle filed drawn maps to census information to diaries and letters written 100s of years ago.

metal detecting researchAll of that is just the tiny tiny tip of a huge ice burg that is the internet data mining, However with all of this at our fingertips sometimes when researching a metal detecting spot or treasure lead we still come up lacking in the information we need. The reason behind this is simple, money!.. there are far far more libraries, city/county offices, historical societies, local news papers, etc. that just do have the resources (or motivation) to get there archives online, as compared to all the ones that actually do upload everything they have. Ask yourself does your local newspaper have all the back issues on the net, what about you local county offices or local historical society? I can tell you mine does not, and in truth, we should very happy about it. The fact online research has become so ease so widespread and discussed on all the treasure and metal detecting forum means that its going to become increasing harder to find that pearl of knowledge that can lead to a great find, that hasn’t in fact been poured over and probably fallowed up on dozens researchers already. That offline research takes a good bit more effort means there is to some extent piles and plies virgin treasure leads out there waiting to be found. In closing this section I am not saying that using the net as a research tool is not going to work, it is going to work and will work wonderfully, it’s the best thing to happen for treasure hunters, but it is “a” tool not “the” tool, if all of your research time is spent on your laptop sitting at the kitchen table you are going to be missing many leads that some other hunter is going to pick up on and will use to beat you to them finds

Starting Your Research

You can’t find something that isn’t there. Yet that’s exactly what too many treasure hunters try to do, hunting at random or chasing phantoms of someone’s imagination.

Don’t misunderstand me: treasure is for real, all right, and there’s still plenty of it waiting to be found. Every month the magazines are filled with other people’s success stories about coins and caches and artifacts. So, if you’re not getting your share, maybe it’s time to ask why.

The answer is research. Okay, so you’ve heard that before. The trouble is, Treasure Hunting research is a lot like the weather -everybody talks about it, but nobody does anything. This article will tell you what to do.

A “treasure” is something of value that has a history. It may now be lost or concealed, but once upon a time it was in the possession of a specific person (or persons) in a specific place. And almost certainly there are still facts, or at least hints, that can be discovered about its past. The systematic tracking down of those facts and hints, followed by an attempt to organize and analyze them, is what research is all about.

Treasure Leads

Every successful treasure hunt begins with some sort of “lead” or clue. It may be a story your grandfather told you, metal detecting and treasure hunting researchsomething you read in a book or newspaper, or just a remark heard in passing. Most Treasure Hunters don’t have any trouble coming up with leads. They just never get around to following up on them, or don’t know how to tell a good lead from a bad one.

Very few leads contain enough information to take you straight to the jackpot. Most are fairly skimpy on facts, and some have nothing to do with facts at all. Your job is to prove or disprove the lead by finding out more about the people, places, and events it involves: Did such a person exist? Where did he live? Could he have acquired the kind of wealth the story suggests? What was his character? Lifestyle? Physical and mental condition? When and how did he die, and what was the disposition of his estate? Is there evidence that any relatives, neighbors, or other persons later discovered money that he had hidden? Get the facts!

But where do you get them, and how? Actually, it’s as easy as asking questions. Reporters and detectives do it all the time, and entire agencies exist for the express purpose of making such information available. Libraries are filled with books and periodicals written by experts who have done most of the legwork and headwork for you. And all around you are people eager to share the knowledge you need.

  1. Libraries.
    Probably 75 percent of all local treasure research can be completed at your local library. In addition to the histories, biographies, standard references, and other materials on hand, practically any book you need can be acquired via interlibrary loan. One of the best things you can do here is make the librarian a friend(why not show up with donuts, everyone loves free donuts!), they will be the ones who know the library from top to bottom, and if they are feeling helpful they can cut your time searching in half. You can also obtain research assistance from the Library of Congress, Research Services Dept., Gen. Reading Rooms Div., Washington, DC 20540.
  2. Archives and collections.
    Many museums, institutions, and organizations maintain extensive collections of documents which can be accessed by researchers. This is a will be a little harder to get access to, most archivist will be very protective of there collection, you will need to show up looking professional and being humble, let them know you are serious, responsible and will take great grate care if they allow you to view there records. Two major resources you will find particularly helpful are the National Archives and Records Service, GSA, Washington, DC 20408 and the Smithsonian Institution, 900 Jefferson Dr. S.W., Washington, DC 20560.
  3. City end county records.
    Marriage licenses, commercial licenses, property deeds, tax assessor’s records, court proceedings — these and much more useful information can usually be obtained without difficulty at city hall or the county courthouse.
  4. State and federal records.
    Birth and death certificates, census reports, and health, employment, military, and criminal records are all on file and potentially useful; however, some of them may be difficult or even impossible to obtain. (As a last resort, you might consider a formal Freedom of Information Act request.) Addresses and phone numbers of the various departments, agencies, and offices can be found in the National Directory of Addresses and Telephone Numbers at any library.
  5. Newspapers and other periodicals.
    Many libraries offer back issues on microfilm, and specific persons and
    topics can be indexed by means of the Reader’s Guide to Periodical
    Literature, Newspaper offices are sometimes willing to open their own
    archives, or “morgues,” to researchers, too.
  6. Private professional records.
    Normally, these will not be made available to you, although the files of
    persons who have been missing or deceased for 50 years or more -usually
    the same ones of particular interest to TH’ers — are often accessible.
    These would include financial, legal, and medical records.
  7. Colleges and universities.
    Libraries and departments of history archaeology , and geology are the
    main sources of assistance here.(I wouldn’t lead of with “hey I’m a metal detectorist looking for new place to dig” when dealing with the archies, more often then not, you will find them much less then helpful) University museums can also be helpful.
  8. Genealogical and historical societies.
    Most of these organizations publish monthly or quarterly journals that
    are excellent sources of information, and some also publish specialized
    regional histories and biographies. Archives and other
    collections may be made available, and individual members may be able to
    offer information or expertise you need.
  9. Diaries, letters, and memorabilia.
    Always attempt to locate personal notes or correspondence written by or
    about anyone linked to a treasure lead. Even scrapbooks, albums, or
    assorted personal effects can offer invaluable clues. This will not always be an
    easy source of information to come across, however it can come in to play when you are able to do “personal interviews” as talked about below.
  10. Oral tradition.
    Some treasure leads are preserved only in stories handed down from one generation to another — and wildly embellished or twisted in the process. Don’t ignore these fireside tales, but don’t take them at face value, either.
  11. Personal interviews.
    Rarely, itmay be possible to contact persons directly connected with a treasure. More often interviews will involve acquaintances or descendants of such people.
  12. Maps:
    These are available, some times free of charge, from a wide variety of sources: city hall, Chamber of Commerce, county surveyor, agricultural agent, state highway department, state geological survey, tourism bureaus, U.S. Forest Service, etc. Especially useful are the USGS topographic maps available from the Branch of Distribution, Geological Survey, Federal Center, PO. Box 25230, Denver, CO 80225. Early U.S. maps, civilian and military, may be obtained from the Cartographic Division of the National Archives.
  13. Photos and illustrations.
    Sources of early photos and illustrations include the Library of Congress, Smithsonian Institution, regional museums, historical societies, libraries, and newspapers. Aerial photos of almost any location can be ordered from User Services, Earth Resources Observation System Data Center, Geological Survey. Dept. of the Interior, Sioux Falls, SD 58198.


Begin by establishing a disciplined research routine. Decide exactly what you need to find out, where you will need to go to find it, and how you are going to go about it. Otherwise, it is easy to get sidetracked by other interests or obligations, delayed due to a lack of preparation and proper materials, or bogged down in unnecessary information and procedures. Hit-or-miss hunting is no better in the library than in the field.

Keep a low profile and (I’m sorry, but it has to be said) keep your mouth shut. Don’t tell anybody you’re a Treasure Hunters. If you have to give any explanation for your activities, just say, “I’m doing some research into the history of this area.” Avoid getting into specifics, however, and don’t disclose any of the information you’ve collected.

Once the facts start to stack up, organize them into some type of lead file. Unless you’re a computer whiz, probably the easiest system is to use 3×5 index cards. That way, information can easily be added, relocated, or removed. Which organizational method you use is largely a matter of preference, though some types are better than others in certain instances. Because most treasure projects involve a sequence of events, a chronological arrangement usually works well. But entries can also be organized alphabetically, geographically, topically, or in some other way.

treasure metal detecting research sitesAs each new piece of information is entered into the file, ask yourself how it affects the status of the lead. Does it tend to prove or disprove the existence of the treasure? Does it change the focus of your research in some way -suggesting that Mr. B, not Mr. A, hid the money, for instance? Does it raise new questions or offer new hints about how Your research should continue? Or does it add anything of interest or importance, one way or the other? Organize, analyze, criticize — even fantasize — but always come back to the facts.

You’ll also need to develop a card-file directory of research resources’ addresses, phone numbers, and special subjects or services. Sample entry: “Bureau of the Census, User Services Div., Washington, DC 20233. (301) 763-1510.Statistical data, by decade, 1790-present.”

And if you haven’t begun one already, a personal mini-library of research books is a must. Your choice of titles will depend on your location and interests, but here are a half dozen that are bound to come in handy no matter where or what you’re hunting:

- Information U.SA. by Matthew Lesko
– National Directory of Addresses & Telephone Numbers, 1990Ed.
The Journals of El Dorado by Estee Conatser and Karl von Mueller
Treasure Hunter’s Manual #7 and by Karl von Mueller
-Treasure Hunting Bibliography and Index to Periodical Articlesand Index to Periodical Articles by John H. Reed

Eventually, you may want to consider teaming up with another serious researcher in your area, or networking” with Treasure Hunters throughout the country by phone and mail. Proceed with caution, however. Collaboration can have its advantages, but there are definite risks involved as well. Besides those individuals who may be out to do you in, there are many more sincere souls who will waste your time and energy and drive you to distraction with their constant “cooperation:’ Avoid unnecessary entanglements.

Videos, Reading and Resources for ONLINE Treasure and Metal Detecting Research

  • Hunterdepot.com- Our very own Historical Links and resources page, we have several hundread links to various old maps as well as Sanborn maps for ever state in the US, also civil war related research, international, gold prospecting, and ghost towns links
  • PBS.org- Has a great condensed guide on there site called How to Conduct Historical Research, its has quite a few tips, and a step by step outline on doing your research
  • TreasureFinders.net- There Research Links Page is loaded down with some quality and useful links for your research
  • Mymdforum.com- Don over at Mymdforum has a damn good and well written post about how he researches spots to detect
  • Detecting365.com- there a lot of useful research articles on this magazine style detecting site one perticulary good one is a post dedicated to some off the available map software for metal detecting research

Pretty Good Vid discussing Sanborn maps

How to Use Google Earth to Find Metal Detecting Sites

A Final Note On Treasure Hunting Research

Offline research is hard work … even harder than it sounds. And very few Treasure Hunters are willing to do it properly, if at all. As a result, untold riches well within reach remain unrecoverable. If you are willing to pay the price research exacts, some of that treasure can be yours. Good hunting!Offline Treasure Hunting Research


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