Elements of Local History for Genealogists

Is there a written local history for your community? No? Well, write one.

Some elements to include are the basic facts about

  1. who created it
  2. when it was created
  3. why the creators started it
  4. how they went about creating it, and
  5. if the community has moved, where it was originally and where it is now

Profiles of the creators, with photographs or other images, are significant. They show how the original pioneers of the place relate to each other and their environment. Summaries of historic events and descriptions of their effect on the pioneers are handy, too. And don’t forget to describe the places these folks lived: their houses, farms, schools, churches, businesses, and so on. A map of the place is always handy at the beginning, to put the place in a larger context.

Researching Your Community

Finding these details can take a bit of work. Talk to the older residents about the place, the business people now, who might know the histories of where they work and the companies they’ve worked with, or against. Is there a librarian or museum curator nearby who knows about the innards of the community? That person is always a go-to source.

In my community, one of my neighbors has lived here for his entire life. He told me why the street where we live is the way it is. There used to be a streetcar line in the middle of it, and when the line was ripped up, the fill wasn’t done properly. There used to be a bridge across the river up at one end of the street, too, but one wouldn’t necessarily know that unless one asks. The other end of the street used to be the business district, but when the streetcar line disappeared, the businesses moved up a few blocks, making my part of the neighborhood more residential.

Newspapers, scrapbooks, and other ephemera are great sources of information. One member of my local genealogical society shared with me some papers that another member had collected and I found some good information about my neighborhood in them. When looking for an obituary in a local newspaper I found out about a pioneer cemetery that had been plowed over for development. There was quite a neighborhood uproar about that.

Organizing Your Research Materials

Collecting your information is easy, but organizing it all takes a bit of work. All the pieces are related somehow, and you need to make each piece fit with the others.

How will you start the history? Will you present it chronologically, with a description of what it looked like in it’s pristine state, or will you start with the first settlers? Was there a significant event at the beginning of the place that might make it famous, or infamous? That last is always an eye-catcher.

While you are writing, in whatever order you choose according to your organization, be sure to verify the facts you are writing about and include citations and attributions if necessary. If you have photographs or illustrations, be sure to credit who took the picture or made the drawing.

When You Finish Writing

Now that you’ve written the ultimate local history, what are you going to do with it? How will it be published? As a website, a print-on-demand book, or as a traditional bound book? One community history, really a regional history, in Oregon has been published as a book and as a website, with download-able sections for each part. A book/web presentation makes it easy for researchers to focus on only the part of the whole they need while still having access to the rest if they want it later.

If you go the book publishing route, you need to consider how it will be formatted, printed, and sold. A number of sites on the Internet offer do-it-yourself publishing services. Some offer professional assistance as well, if you want to pay extra for it.

If you are interested in writing your local history and need help, let me know, and I’ll see what I can do to point you to good resources for researching or publishing it. Thanks!