Saturday, July 19, 2014

Local History Books

As Americans we are a culture of documentation. We like things written down and stamp with seals from government agencies. We are generally more likely to believe the newspaper article we find than the stories of family lore told by great-grandma. It's just how we are. We do not put much stock in oral history which I believe is a hug mistake. Although, I too am guilty of fastidiously believing documents. I don't believe other researching cousins' "facts" until they can "show me where you got that."

In my heart though, in principle, I am a big proponent of using both oral history and documentation of vital statistics when researching your family history. Which is part of why I love good local history books.

What makes a "good" local history book? Well...

Authors of these types of books often blend together research they have done in community records as well as information they have gleaned from interviewing locals. Once they blend that all together, write it down, and publish it we're much more likely to believe the stories as facts. In many cases those "stories" are facts! They just aren't documented anywhere else and so we tend not to believe them...but if they're in a book, oh, then we believe them.

Does that mean they are true, honest-to-goodness, facts? Eh...that is debatable and depends on your perception of oral history and eyewitness accounts.

How do you recognize a "good" local history book? Well...

While on my trip to Newfoundland last month I had the happy circumstances of serendipitously meeting a relative; Cousin Charlie.You can read about it in my recent post "Norris Point - The Loss of the 'Reddie' from Gadds Harbour Island".

During our brief encounter, Cousin Charlie suggested a book about the history of Norris Point and the surrounding Bonne Bay area. The book is called The Good and Beautiful Bay: A History of Bonne Bay to Confederation and a Little Beyond by Antony Berger. It is an EXCELLENT local history book.

A good local history will have some if not all of the following qualities:
  1.  An index. By the way, The Good and Beautiful Bay lists several of my Samms, Smith, and Organ ancestors in its index.
  2. A bibliography of a list of works citing which indicates what sources the author used.
  3. A notes of endnotes section which extrapolates on how and where details mentioned in the text were  obtained.
  4. A reputable publisher. Now many you don't recognize the publisher but that doesn't mean you can't find out about the publishers reputation online. Some publishers are know for quality work...look them up!
Or better yet, check out the local history collection in the public library in the community in which your ancestors lived. Generally, libraries don't have the space to collect crappy resources. Their local history materials are worth checking out.

Using these types of resources will not necessarily give you the names, dates, and places of birth, death and marriage that you are seeking but they will give you a sense of the community and culture in which your ancestors lived. It will tell you about other families they lived along side and the events that shaped their everyday lives. Check them out!

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