Search Instructions

Online Documents
Search Methods
Instructions and Essays
Please read this before your first search.

Top Introduction

The Edison Papers is a large, rich, complex edition, reflecting primarily the size and structure of the archival holdings of the Edison National Historic Site in West Orange, New Jersey. There are four ways to search the documents—(1) by name, date, and/or document type; (2) by the text of the folder/volume descriptions; (3) by browsing the Series Notes; (4) by using the digital identification number to go directly to a particular folder, volume, or individual document. Each method has particular strengths, and you will usually get best results by using them in combination.

The database for the Edison Papers contains approximately 145,000 document records, as well as approximately 23,300 names (individuals, institutions, newspapers, etc.) encountered in those documents. In addition to the documents in the Edison National Historic Site archives published as Parts I-V (1850-1919), the project's scholars have located several thousand documents in hundreds of libraries, archives, federal repositories, and private collections. Images for most of these documents appear in the digital edition. However, the document images for Part IV and Part V (1899-1919) have not yet been scanned. Document records (and, eventually, images) for the remaining years (1920‑1931) will be added as the edition progresses.

What You Will See

Top Name/Date/Document Type search results

Document search results appear as a list sorted one of three ways: chronologically, from earliest to latest; by document type (fully described in the search instructions); or by microfilm reel:frame order, which is useful for organizing further research if the desired document images have not yet been digitally prepared. Like the Personal Document List, any search result can be saved and used from any computer on the Internet. The document information in the results includes

Search Result

Screenshot: Folder text page

Top Folder/Volume Links

On any screen, highlighed text next to an open folder icon (open folder) is linked to the editorial description of a folder, volume, or series of documents. Clicking on the icon or the highlighted text will open a new browser window containing the item's full title, identifier (in square brackets below the title), and the editorial text. There are two buttons following the text—"List Documents" and "Close Window"—and four icons at the top of the window.

Screenshot: Document View Page.

Top Document View Page

After selecting the documents you want to see and clicking the "Find Documents" button, you will have a screen with frames. Short document descriptions will appear in a left-hand frame. As you click on document dates in that frame, full document information will appear at upper right and document images will appear at lower right. Above the document image there is a text entry box and button enabling you to skip to any desired image in a multi-image document. Remember that on a small screen you can adjust the frames with your mouse to get a larger document viewing area. The document information is the same as search results information, except that

Top A Semitechnical Note on the Images

The images in the digital edition have been scanned from the microfilm edition. The scanned files, which are 200 dpi grayscale TIFFs, average 6Mb. In order to deliver images of reasonable size, most of the files have simply been reduced to 80 dpi and saved in moderately compressed JPEG format. However, documents with small text or drawings, fine lines, stains, or faded ink have been reduced less spatially, darkened/lightened, or compressed less in JPEG as necessary. Most of the resultant image files are 30–60Kb, but some—especially in scrapbooks, which often have large pages and several clippings with small type—range from 200Kb to more than half a megabyte.

Our goal is legibility; we realize that the documents are of no use if they cannot be read. Despite our best efforts, some documents are barely or partially legible in the original, and we have been unable to correct them. Nevertheless, we encourage you to notify us at if particular images are unreadable; it could be a correctable oversight.

Top Personal Document List; Single Documents

As you view documents, you may want to accumulate a list you can save. When you click the "Add to List" button in the upper right frame of the document viewing screen, the document ID is stored in a list assigned to you (see Privacy and Cookies below). At any time during your session you may click the "Show List" button to see your stored list. The list will look like a Search Results page, with selection checkboxes, names linked to the search page, and folders/volumes linked to their text. When you are finished assembling a list, click "Show List" and then save the page to your computer using the "File/Save As" function of your browser (also "Ctrl+S" in Netscape and Internet Explorer). We suggest a descriptive name ending in ".htm", like <RowlandDocs.htm>, because the default will be <DocPicture.php3> every time. You will then be able to view the documents at any time by retrieving the list, or you can send the list to anyone else, use it in a presentation, or post or distribute it for a class. All the links point to the Edison Papers website from anywhere on the Internet. You must save your list if you want to keep it. If you forget to save it, you can return to the site and retrieve it, but lists are deleted from the server after 12 hours. Conversely, you cannot create a new, separate list until the server removes the old one.

By noting the ID of an individual document (in the top frame of the document view screen), you can embed a link to that document in a text. When the reader activates the link the document information and images will appear. The URL for a single document is

where XXXXXX is the Document ID. For example, in a discussion of the relationship between the electrical industry and engineering education you might include a link to an 1889 letter from Samuel Insull to Alfred Tate (DocID=D8905ACB) asking "to what extent does [Edison] expect us to keep on presenting Cornell University with apparatus." (Edison answered in a note at the bottom: "I think we better send cut outs etc for wiring   it gets our system in—")

Top Privacy and Cookies

Cookies are small files created by a Web server and stored on your computer. They are a focus of privacy concerns because some Web sites generate them in order to gather information about users. You must have cookies enabled on your browser in order to use the search functions of the Edison Papers. ("Enabled" is the default for Netscape and Internet Explorer; they will be on if you haven't deliberately turned them off.) Cookies are generated during your Edison Papers session to store names, dates, and search result sort type as well as the key for your personal document list, and they are deleted after 12 hours. (If you return to the site in less than 12 hours your earlier choices may show up in some places, just as they will during a session if you return to the document search page.) There is no information beyond those search variables created in cookies as a result of your session.

Top Tips on Finding Documents

Depending on what information you have and what you seek, it may be to your advantage to begin with one or another of the three search methods: a Name/Date/Document Type search, a text search of the Folder/Volume Descriptions, or a perusal of the Series Notes. For serious research, you will likely use all three methods in concert, as you would in a visit to a library or archive.

The Name Search program is a powerful tool and may be a good place to start, but it should generally be considered a first step, not a final one. The program will find every indexed instance of a particular name, but the name may not have been indexed every time it appeared. Although the database for the Edison Papers image edition includes all authors and recipients of correspondence, agreements, and other indexed documents, it does not provide an exhaustive listing of all names mentioned in the documents. Computational power and storage were much dearer when the project began in the late 1970s; with few exceptions, each indexed document in Parts I–III has only two name mentions. As a result of both this limit and the nature of some documents, a thorough search must in many cases include exploration of the Series Notes or a text search and page-by-page examination of certain records, just as it would in a visit to the actual archive.

The researcher using the Name Search should keep several caveats in mind:

Individuals not represented in pre-1898 documents as authors or recipients were generally not included as name mentions.
This means that a name mentioned in documents—even a famous one—may have been passed over before its first appearance in the index as an author or recipient, or that a name only mentioned may not be indexed at all.
In letters and other documents containing more than two significant name mentions, individuals who show up infrequently in the documents are favored over those mentioned more frequently.
Because the documents are arranged topically, certain names will appear consistently through a particular folder or collection. Whenever a database search turns up numerous references to an individual or organization within a particular folder, researchers should read the entire folder and not merely the specific documents that show up as hits. For example, the early "Patents" folders in the Document File contain numerous references to Edison's patent attorney, Lemuel Serrell. For that reason, a mention of Serrell's name is not indexed in documents containing two other significant name mentions. Researchers interested in Serrell's activities will therefore want to look at every document in those "Patents" folders.
Certain types of documents and document collections may contain dozens or hundreds of unrecorded names.
Account books, company ledgers, scrapbooks, unbound clippings, litigation records, and other large documents are often indexed only by their first page or intermittently for name mentions. The researcher must look at the Series Notes to locate such documents and then must examine them for the sought information. For example, the court records in the Litigation Series include testimony by Edison, his associates, and his competitors that sometimes contains references to numerous individuals and companies, only a few of which are included as name mentions in the database. Likewise, the hundreds of individuals and companies appearing in the journals, ledgers, and other account records in the Account Series of Parts I and II and in the Laboratory Records Series and Company Records Series of Parts III and IV are not individually indexed in the database. The journals and scrapbooks in the Charles Batchelor Collection in Part II also contain numerous unindexed references to names and companies.

TopSample search

 The Gilded Age financier Jay Gould was involved with Edison in the 1870s, and a name search will turn up 138 documents. Even before reading the documents themselves, there is useful information to be gleaned:

Reading the documents is the point, of course, but patterns in search results and the editorial text introducing the various locations can provide important context for understanding the documents. In short, there are many paths through the edition. It is broad and deep, and very often will yield helpful information. It just may take a little looking.

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The search software was written by David Suarez of Innovative Systems and Solutions, Ltd.