User's Guide

As a digital documentary edition, CWGK is as dynamic as it is vast. The project contains over 10,000 transcribed documents and an ever-growing body of annotated biographies (over 12,500 individuals, 700 places, and 850 organizations). The project strives to be the space where scholars, educators, and family historians go to understand the Civil War in Kentucky. With such diverse audiences, project staff are keenly aware of the potential challenges of diving into this digital archive. This page offers best practices for using CWGK and helpful hints to navigate the site effectively.

Yet, this guide is suggestive, rather than exhaustive. It offers different ways that you might access the site and efficiently manage your time on the site. That is hardly a substitute for the joy and unpredictability of discovery in an archive.  

Should you have any questions or feedback, do not hesitate to use the “Suggest a Correction” button at the bottom of every page or to reach the project team through their contact information, available on the staff page.

Search and Accessing Documents

The core of CWGK is its vast collection of documents and annotated biographies on people, organizations, and places. All of these items—over 23,000—are searchable and freely available, but there are metaphorically tons of things to sift through to learn about Civil War Kentucky on the site. If you want to spend your time reading every single document and biography, please feel free to do so! If, however, you are under time constraints to finish research or projects, there are a few ways to expedite the research process: 

1) Keyword search the collection OR
2) Browse repositories or document collections.

As with most online databases, you can search the CWGK archive by keyword. There are two ways to do so. First, you can use the search bar (available on nearly every page) to look for any term, person, concept, or idea. This search is broad, as the regular search bar will pull hits from all items in CWGK. That means it will search the text of document transcriptions and the individual biographies of people, places, or organizations. Alternatively, you can conduct an ‘advanced search’ which allows you to confine the parameters of your search to specific fields (collection, date created, dates mentioned, editorial notes, place of creation, or the transcription). This advanced search option also allows you to search up to three of those fields at a given time.

You may also browse the documents on CWGK. You can do so by visiting the repository page, which breaks the entire edition down into the various archives and collections that provided all of CWGK’s documents.


  • You can narrow search results for exact words by placing quotation marks around the term/word
  • You can sort results by item type, the repository, the collection, by the dates, or place of creation.

Editorial Policy

At its heart, CWGK is about providing researchers with access to the building blocks of the historian’s craft: primary documents. To do so, we attempt to take as light of a hand in the editing process as possible. That means that every single document is transcribed as it appears, including spelling mistakes and other typographical errors. 

When it comes to searching for items, the search tool tends to be fairly specific and non-predictive, meaning that it will not pull search results with close or differently spell names—you may have to search for several different spellings of a name to locate an individual in the archive. For example, Governor Beriah Magoffin's last name often appears as: Magoffin, Magofin, McGoffin, or MacGoffin.

A longer discussion of CWGK's editorial policies is available here

Education Materials and Exhibits

In addition to the 10,000 documents available on CWGK, project staff have also provided a variety of interpretive exhibits and educational resources for visitors to the site.

Exhibits: Include assembled documents and short essays that highlight specific cases located throughout the CWGK archive. These collections address important stories that resonate through the archive and illuminate the upheaval of the Civil War, including the troubles of emancipation, the mental trauma of warfare, and the variety of legal documents found within the edition.

Themes: CWGK has developed several learning themes that pull together a range of documents centered on a historical theme—agricultural history, women at war, mental health, religion, and nineteenth century crime. These themes tie together a small selection of CWGK documents and provide a list of secondary materials, to offer educators an opportunity to use these materials in their class as a predesigned activity or something to structure larger learning opportunities around.

Mini-plans: A relatively new approach to learning activities for educators, which CWGK staff call mini-plans, function similarly to the learning themes as they provide both primary documents and suggested secondary sources—usually three of each. These mini-plans also provide a short list of questions for educators and are geared towards offering educators at the high school or college level a small template to build a larger lesson/lecture/classroom activity.

Activities: Lastly, CWGK staff have built activities that educators can incorporate directly into their class—one is an agricultural board game and the other is an interactive Election of 1864 card game. The materials in these activities come directly from CWGK documents and provide creative outlets for educators to provide students with classroom activities on specific topics.