Because little previous historical research or archaeological work had been done on Centerville, she started by reading books about the area, then went to county records and the local newspaper. "Fortunately, I had Tom La Pointe as research assistant," she says. "He read every issue of the Idaho World from Day 1 to 1920 and photocopied pertinent articles. There's no easy way; you just have to sit down in front of the microfilm reader and churn through it."
Wegars used La Pointe's work as the basis for her chapter about the Chinese in Centerville, weaving in facts from county documents and oral histories. She also interviewed people who, in their youth, had known the few remaining elderly Chinese.
Preferably, Wegars says, you begin with library research so you are more aware of what you're finding when you're in the field. However, in the Centerville project, funds were first available for the dig, and later for the archival work, so that's where she began.
From July 12 through 31, 1993, her team of 26 volunteers, four students and several BLM staff recovered 10,053 artifacts from surface collections, excavations, and backhoe trenches. Most were examined, inventoried, and returned to their original locations.
"We started at 8 a.m. Excavations went on simultaneously in different parts of the site, each supervised by a graduate student or professional archeologist. We worked eight hours with an hour off for lunch. At 4:30 p.m. we put our tools away and closed everything up except one site, where we met to talk about what had been found there that day and what it meant.
"Most study units were 2 meters by 2 meters square. They were excavated in 10-centimeter layers. Everything found in a layer was kept in one bag and brought to the on-site lab where we washed the pottery and glass fragments, brushed the metal and bone, assigned each piece a number, and entered it in a computer database.
"Only items considered 'diagnostic' were retained, such as a rim or base from a glass object or anything embossed or incised. The rim tells us if it was a drinking glass or shot glass, which helps indicate that the place where it was found was a home or a saloon. A plate with a manufacturer's mark on the base or an embossed medicine or liquor bottle can be looked up and dated."
In sum, she says, "In an archaeological excavation, you find the fragments that tell you what whole things were there, and the whole things tell you what was used and how the people lived."