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Tuesday, July 19, 2016

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How Can Local History Help Me with Genealogy?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at
A library and an archive carry different resources. Most people who have researched for some time have accessed the holdings at the local archives, but resources in the local history section of the local library have been widely overlooked.

Researching library holdings
If you have never thought to research the holdings in the library in your ancestor's hometown, you may be in for a surprise. It is possible for you to glean much more than names and dates from the resources in a local library.

If you do not live close enough to the library, search their catalog and digital collections online. E-mail them to find out the resources they have in their local history department that may identify your ancestor.

Accessing resources
Local history librarians have begun to receive many requests for help with genealogy research. Be courteous of their time, and be generous with paying requested fees. You may find that it would be worth your while to pay to have the same access to resources as a resident especially if resources are not accessible online.
Create a timeline of your ancestor's life for easy reference, and search the resources suggested here in search of your ancestor.

What school did your ancestor attend?

You may be interested in researching the school records of your ancestor. The local library may have year books or be able to help you identify the schools that existed that your ancestor may have attended.
Contact the school archives for a transcript. Be sure to research the names of extinct primary and secondary schools and where the record would be held. Researching the schools your family attended may reveal ancestors who helped to provide land or other resources to establish the school.

Which churches did your family attend?

Researching the churches in your family may prove to be very significant if you are able to trace records back before the time births and marriages were recorded on civil registers.
You may discover that the church also has an adjacent cemetery where other family members are buried. You will need to identify the person in charge of the archived records. Set an appointment to view these records. Some record keepers are church secretaries who keep records in their homes while some can provide access to the records on site.

What can an old newspaper tell you?

Many researchers have discovered how to access obituaries to document ancestors. In cases where you cannot locate a death certificate, the obituary is the next best resource.
Historic newspapers can help you in many other ways not yet fully understood. Take time out to research the names of the local newspapers that were published during your ancestor's life. Some of them may have stopped publishing long ago. Many are on microfilm or online.
Read through the issues that may mention your ancestor. Older newspapers were much different long ago. They give many more details, and more social activities were shared.
Some of the types of articles include:
  • a soldier returning home
  • a former resident coming home for a visit
  • social gatherings (who attended and what they were wearing)

Check the vertical file

Often the vertical file in the library goes unnoticed. It may have never been digitized. This is the place where you can find loose clippings of newspaper articles, programs, photos, or letters filed by topic or alphabetically by surname.
If the local history department of the local library has a vertical file, you might discover leads to more information that you may have never stumbled upon otherwise.
Look for information about businesses, churches, schools, or organizations that your ancestor would have been affiliated with.

Search for history books on the local area

Many local history books in the library give biographical information about local residents. It is fascinating to learn more about the locality where your ancestor lived. It is important to understand the formation of counties and towns and how those changes effected the local residents.
Most of the time this information can help you keep your bearing straight as you try to make sense of where to look for records during certain time periods.
Records were generated according to locality. If you are searching for resources for a locality, a great place to start would be at the Research Wiki. It will help you link to genealogical records online and in local repositories.

What can you learn from city directories?

If your ancestor lived within a city, he or she may be listed in the old city directories. City directories are great because they help to account for family members in between census years. Search each consecutive year to see if you can find your family. You may discover much more such as:
  • ancestor's occupation
  • other members of the family group
  • address changes
If you discover the occupation of an ancestor, search the newspapers and other resources for mentions of the company. If your ancestor was a clergy member or teacher and you discover it in the city directory, you can then search out possible churches or schools. Many city directories are being made available online.

Periodicals may hold biographical data

Many libraries carry volumes of genealogical periodicals where the history of local residents are published. Most have been indexed making it easier to tell which volume contains information about your ancestor.
These resources are helpful even if they do not contain your ancestor because they are sourced and will reveal historical resources that you may have not checked.
The first volume of the South Carolina Magazine of Ancestral Research was published in 1973. Each volume has a wealth of information, and it is available in many public libraries in South Carolina. Take a look at the list of Volumes I through XL to see an example of what a genealogical periodical can contain.


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