For some, research can be an exciting exercise in detective work, digging for clues, facts, and historical tidbits that most people have never heard of. For others, research is a sure-fire cure for insomnia.
In the context of this article, we're going to discuss research as a means of finding abandonments. There are many other uses for research in this hobby, but we'll talk about that later.
One of the best ways to find abandonments is to look for websites, local or otherwise, dedicated to our hobby. Some maintain databases of locations for you to explore. These may require memberships to access, and some grant membership only on referral from other members. You need to establish yourself a little.
Other sites offer up the information to just about anyone with no barrier to entry.
Look for search tools on these sites. Perhaps they offer the ability to narrow down your search to your area, or those acceptably close by.
Maybe you find pictures of something you know is in your city or a neighbouring city, but you don't know where precisely. Use Google Earth, and examine photos you find online very closely for clues. Perhaps an unusually-shaped roof, or something prominent and recognizable in the background. Maybe you can even use that to estimate the angle the photo was taken, helping you narrow your search even closer.
For example, in a UE-related forum, someone posted pictures of an abandoned school in Philadelphia. It caught my interest because I planned to be there in the next couple of months. While he did not leave any information about where to find the place precisely, he did, unwittingly, leave enough information for me to pinpoint it.
I began by looking through his photos. One shot showed two bridges side-by-side. One was smaller than the other, and both were somewhat unique. It didn't take long scanning up and down the river on Google Earth to determine where these bridges were. Better still, because the two bridges were so different, I was now also able to determine which side of the river the photo was taken from. If you're not following me, the bridges would appear to be on different sides of each other, depending on which side of the river you took the picture from.
Research can also come by talking to others from the community. Speak with people who snowmobile, for example. They tend to be out in the woods mostly, or back fields, and often run across fascinating places people forgot, or don't care about anymore.
Talk to older people in the community. Sometimes you'll get lucky enough to find someone who's lived there long enough, and heard enough that they can point to a few abandoned places.
Research books and even more-so, newspapers. Often the news now, or within a couple of prior years, will indicate the failure, collapse or insolvency or a business or industry in your area. This could be a useful place to start looking.
Sometimes, even a search on Google using the terms "abandoned Mytown" obviously substituting the name of your community of interest. You might get lucky and hit on something of interest online. You'll probably have to add "-cats" to your search, as you find a LOT of articles about abandoned cats in every community, and using the minus sign in front of the word will tell Google to exclude those from the search.
UPDATE - August 20, 2009: More and more, libraries are beginning to keep collections of images, databases of magazine articles, etc. online. I have found that it is useful to build a collection of links to libraries in areas you routinely explore to find out background information on the places you find. Before you know it, you'll have a fairly extensive online reference library of your own.