Despite the promises of the digital humanities, archival research in Africa continues to be a highly personalized and ‘analogue’ process. This is especially true for historians of the post-colonial period, who often find that state repositories contain few or no records from the years after independence. Drawing on a research project on the Nigerian Civil War (1967–1970), this research note discusses some of the methodological challenges for the study of the recent African past. It suggests ways that social scientists and historians can obtain and interpret documentary materials in the absence of centralized state archives. Those who study contemporary African history seldom have the luxury of working in a formal archive, state or otherwise.