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Looking for Lincoln Documents

The biggest-ever Abraham Lincoln document hunt has begun, and you may be able to participate. There's a massive search underway to locate and copy every known Lincoln document, and your clues may help some hard-working researchers in Lincoln's hometown.

Do you own a Lincoln document or recall seeing one in an obscure place? It might be a framed letter hanging in a neighbor's house, a 19th-century newspaper in an old trunk, or a soldier's pardon in a county museum. If so, you should contact the Papers of Abraham Lincoln.

Introducing the Papers of Abraham Lincoln

The Papers of Abraham Lincoln, based in the heart of Springfield, Illinois, is a long-term documentary editing project that seeks to identify, photograph and publish every document written by or to Lincoln during his lifetime (1809-1865). The project expands the legendary work of the Lincoln Legal Papers, which has documented Lincoln's legal career. Eventually, all the documents will appear on the Internet, with images and information provided free of charge.

The Papers project features three parts -- Series I covers Lincoln's legal career; Series II focuses on non-legal Lincoln documents from his birth in 1809 to his presidential inauguration on March 4, 1861; Series III covers documents from the presidential years (1861 to 1865). The staff is looking for documents from all three time periods, with concentration on the last two. To learn more about the project, click here.

Many new Lincoln documents have been found since the Papers project began. To see a sample of them, click here.

What is Considered a Lincoln Document?

The Papers of Abraham Lincoln is seeking copies of any handwritten document, letter, or contemporary printed account produced during Abraham Lincoln's lifetime (1809-1865). If you aren't sure what a Lincoln document is, check the following list.

A Lincoln document is:

  • Written in Abraham Lincoln's own hand;
  • Printed from an original that Lincoln wrote (such as letters to a newspaper authored by Lincoln);
  • Written by a secretary or assistant but signed by Lincoln or issued directly under his authority;
  • Reports of Lincoln's words (such as legislative bills and acts, newspaper reports of speeches)
  • Addressed or directed to Lincoln (either the sender's or recipient's copy; either draft or final version)
  • Enclosed with correspondence addressed to Lincoln or written by Lincoln;
  • Part of an official record of a matter meant for Lincoln's review (such as military pardon case files).

  • Lincoln Documents Which Cannot Be Used

    Although Papers staff members invite "leads" on all Lincoln documents, they caution against some types. The Gettysburg Address is one example. You may know of an old copy, but "old" is not the same as "original" (there are five known original versions written by Lincoln, and copies of these, in turn, were mass-produced many years ago). For more information, click here.

    Another example is the Bixby letter, of Saving Private Ryan fame, written to a widow who lost sons in the Civil War. This letter is now lost to history. There are various theories on its demise, the main ones being that the newspaper editor who originally published it discarded it, or that Mrs. Bixby failed to appreciate its worth or Mr. Lincoln. The "old" letters in circulation today are copies of an early forgery.

    In addition, please avoid reproduction copies of newspapers such as the New York Herald, originally published on April 15, 1865, the day of Lincoln's death. For details, click here.

    How to Contact the Papers of Abraham Lincoln

    Document Leads: To contact the staff about possible documents, describe the document briefly in an email.

    Gifts: Although this important project has some government funding, it also needs gifts from individuals more than ever. You may send tax-deductible contributions to: The Papers of Abraham Lincoln, 112 North Sixth Street, Springfield, Illinois 62701-1507, with your check made payable to the Papers of Abraham Lincoln.

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