First, I google all the names that a meme goes by, and read what other press have said about it.
Then I look it up in ED, Urban Dictionary, Lurkmore, Uncyclopedia, whatever other references may have researched it before.
Then I do a Google Insights analysis comparing the terms to see if I can find a beginning date that people first began searching for it. Google Insights doesn’t represent when t first occurred, but when people took interest.
From there I do a “Specific Date Range” search under Google’s “More options” feature, and use the beginning of the trend as my end date, with the beginning generally set to the Year 2000, or prior if the meme seems to be older than that.
From there, I then sort through the search results and try to narrow it down to the earliest appearence. But Google’s date range search feature isn’t perfect because most blogs tend to show up with the date they were started or first archived by Google rather than when the phrase first appears. Forum signatures also lead to a lot of false results. (I pray that we never add signatures here.) It’s kind of a hit-and-miss method that’s better for memes with more unique names.
For memes that are more obviously 4chan-related, checking 4chanarchive.org is usually handy.
And quite often, during all that searching, I end up finding interesting posts in other forums that look like the origin, and then I try to get in contact with the poster so I can ask them questions directly. This is how I found the origin if "every time you masturbate, God kills a kitten.
This is why I always stress for people not to ask “is this a meme” and instead only submit meme entries based on what they already know. Otherwise, they can sit in Submissions for a VERY long time.
this was from chris menning. and is a great way to researched memes. we need to have exerpts from threads detailing how to research a meme, discuss