The documents contained in this edition were gathered from courthouses, record repositories, libraries, and private collections all over the United States. This effort took almost nine years to complete, and included a combination of many types of search methods.
Notices were put in more than 300 publications announcing the project's mission and requesting assistance in locating documents. We did not receive many responses from these notices, but they did serve to alert special interest groups, like manuscript collectors, of our efforts.
We contacted almost 14,000 libraries and repositories by mail to inquire whether their holdings included any Lincoln legal documents. The names and addresses for this mail survey primarily came from two sources: Directory of Archives and Manuscript Repositories, compiled by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, and the Directory of Historical Agencies in North America (13th edition), compiled by the American Association for State and Local History. Survey letters were also sent to law libraries, Illinois lawyers, and Manuscript Society members.
A working case list was developed from a variety of primary and secondary sources. Two comprehensive reference works, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, edited by Roy P. Basler (1953), and Lincoln Day by Day, A Chronology, 1809-1865, published by the Lincoln Sesquicentennial Commission (1958), provided a “seed list”. Documents from several important Lincoln collections identified additional cases. These included the Herndon-Weik Collection at the Library of Congress, the Henry Horner Collection at the Illinois State Historical Library, and the Lincoln Museum Lincoln Collections at Harrogate, Tennessee, among others. This working case list was entered into a database that could be loaded on a laptop computer and taken on research trips.
The working case list provided pertinent known information about each case. It identified plaintiffs, defendants, the county, the court, approximate date, the legal action, a notation of venue change and appeals, a citation of the work that prompted the inclusion of the case in the list, and the name of Lincoln or the partner to whom the case is attributed.
Research teams visited 88 Illinois county courthouses (or records repositories) to locate and photocopy pertinent documents. The depth of the search depended on the extent of Lincoln’s practice or travel to a county. See Table of Courthouses Searched.
Researchers visited 61 manuscript and archive repositories throughout the United States to locate and photocopy pertinent documents. While researchers typically examined collections of Lincoln-related manuscripts or archives, they also investigated the collections of Lincoln scholars and collectors, the collections of Lincoln contemporaries (especially those who practiced law), and all public records or business archives relative to Illinois law during the time of Lincoln’s practice. See Table of Repositories Searched.
The search through Illinois newspapers encompassed not only the “public notices” of pending legal action and reports of judgments and proceedings, but also the articles, editorials and transcripts of proceedings of Lincoln partnership cases. In many instances when court records have been lost, such as the federal court records in the Chicago fire, the newspaper provided our only contemporary documents. For that reason, the major newspapers in Springfield and Bloomington, Illinois were searched for the period 1836-1861. Some community newspapers such as that of Lincoln in Logan County, Illinois, did not survive, nor did the court records. The newspaper microfilm resources of the Illinois State Historical Library proved to be the most comprehensive and accessible.
The search of the Chicago area newspapers was limited to those periods when Lincoln was known to have been there for legal cases, as well as personal and political events. For some high-visibility cases such as the “Effie Afton”, the local Rock Island, Illinois, newspaper was searched for the period of the case.
Any mention of a Lincoln partnership case in the newspapers was copied and made a part of the case documents.
Researchers examined several hundred manuscript catalogs available in the Henry Horner Lincoln Collection of the Illinois State Historical Library in order to identify the myriad of Lincoln manuscripts not held in public collections. When no other copy could be obtained researchers copied the document or document description from the manuscript catalog for inclusion with the appropriate case. Particular attention was given to the sale catalogs of several major Lincoln manuscript collections, including the Oliver R. Barrett collection, the Emanuel Hertz collection, the Henry M. Leland collection, the Roy P. Crocker collection, and the Elsie O. and Philip D. Sang Foundation collection.