I was on holiday on Flinders Island when this chat happened so I will only do a brief summary without names.
How can Local History research complement your Family History?
in the absence of extensive personal records for # local history is often the only way to understand the worlds in which they lived and died. Knowing can give clues and help solve genealogical dilemmas
Absolutely! Especially handy when delving into Irish ancestors.
It’s pretty much essential! Some of my best breakthroughs over the weekend were applying that local history knowledge, including of custom and practice, to detect and analyse pattern
The British Library Ethos Catalogue lists all UK theses, many can be downloaded FOC, but not every one is available & you have to contact the relevant university.
Right now, the difficulty I have is that many publications I want were small print runs and copies only survive in local history libraries which are closed due to covid.
I love bibliographies! Makes me frustrated when people don’t reference adequately. And jealous when the sources aren’t available to me!
I love a good footnote! But the academic style in academic Irish History (IHS) often means that footnotes are just references and not commentary.
Understanding what industry was happening in the places where your early ancestors lived can give you an idea of what occupations they may have had
Local occupations/industries are a fascinating study. Regional variation is esp why local research element so important – a Cornish tin miner has a v different local culture to a Rhondda coal miner
I think this is an essential part of the research process! “Context” is quite possibly the most important word in # – and local hist a vital part of that if we’re to interpret records properly
Funnily enough there was an aspect of this I wrote about last week – considering the need to understand occupations at a local level to appreciate terminology, and how community & job are intertwined. Local lingo essential knowledge!
I find BIG rabbit holes to explore when I start wondering about why everyone seems to do the same job in a town, or have jobs I never heard of. Got very into shoemaking near Hinckley Lancashire when researching the wife left behind of a convict ancestor.
Craft occupations can be interesting given that fundamental tools/processes often constant, yet with different names or slightly diff products for a place. How did your shoemakers turn out?
Context, context, context! You lose so much of your ancestors’ real story if you don’t know about what was happening around them. The local community is just an extended part of your family tree, with a good chance you are literally related to some of them
Our ancestors are much more than names and dates. Local history helps to build a bigger and more interesting story
Has visiting an ancestral place helped you understand your ancestor’s life within their community and place?
Not really as the visits were always very short. And at the time I was travelling I knew very little about my family
I haven’t had the chance to visit many ancestral places since I started researching my family history, but I regularly make use of Google Street View to get a feel for the landscape and layout, particularly for rural areas or in other countries.
I Google street view just about every location I find. Also zoom back out so you can see close towns, rivers, seaside and other features that might a context.
This is a great tip. When I checked street view for my ancestors property in England I didn’t expect much as the house had been demolished. But it was possible to see where the moat around the original house had been
I’m cautious about researching urban areas in the same way though, as they tend to have changed a lot, and it would be easy to get a false impression
I agree. This is where if available online I scour contemporary newspapers and other contemporary accounts
Visiting gives a sense of space and place, especially where the landscape remains relatively unchanged but using local history sources (including maps) provides a means to interpret what our sense perceive
Yes. Absolutely crucial to tread in their footsteps and see what they may have seen to feel closer and get a sense of their place.
not yet, fully, but I twisted my ankle in a cobbled back lane of Collingwood last year literally walking in the footsteps of my GGGrandmother, who’d done the same there in the 1880s, reported in the papers!
A holiday is not a holiday for me unless I visit a place an ancestor lived ort a cemetery!
Agree Sharn. Any future trips we may be lucky enough to manage will have a # – LOVE cemeteries but getting the rest of my family to accompany me into them is like pulling teeth!
supposed to be # connection – yes, both my parents loved visiting cemeteries on our hols and I inherited their love, but my siblings steadfastly did NOT
Walking past the house in Wales that my ancestors left in 1840 helped me understand what they left behind. The heaviest rain I’ve ever seen made me wonder why they were leaving and how different life in Australia would be for them
Yes there are places I have been to that I just know I have a connection to when I am there … it gives an understanding of place but not time … that is something we need to research in some way
I managed to identify a house in a photograph I had when I visited the village where my father was born
Visiting Norfolk Island showed me helped me understand the convict life of my g g g grandfather and his brother. It really was hell in paradise
Walking the main street in my ancestor’s Bavarian village it’s easy to get a sense of how people would have known each other because the geography has changed so little.
I loved visiting Cornwall and Chelmsford, Essex where ancestors lived. It is always enjoyable thinking you might be walking in there footsteps.
How do you research your ancestral places and communities? What resources, books and websites do you use?
Old maps (PRONI has a great online viewer for historic maps from Northern Ireland), street directories, aerial photographs (useful for spotting old boundaries and ruined buildings that don’t appear on maps), newspapers, court records, statistical accounts. There’s never an edit button when you need one – ‘historicAL maps’. The website is here if anyone wants to have a play with it nidirect.gov.uk/services/searc…
Since most of my Irish ancestors were rural, I’ve been using maps like those @ hold sources.nli.ie/Search/Results… and combining them with other land records and travelogues/directories My home parish was noted (c 1800) for its love of learning & feast days
contemporary newspapers, academic histories e.g. The Outcasts of Melbourne (Graeme Davison et al, eds), journal articles, archival records, contemporary photographs or artworks
I always search for local history studies in journals in places such as JSTOR or Oxford Journals
Check university and research libraries near your ancestral places to see what they offer in terms of local history. This includes theses, specialist books and news stories.
Another great tip – yes! While I love the chase myself, I do always hope that someone has already produced something really substantial on aspects I’m researching
Join a local history society as a way of getting context to your family history research.
Check your state land registry website for maps and historical imagery (in Australia)
Local history and genealogy societies, Wikipedia, FamilySearch wiki, local tourist agencies, all provide leads
I find the British Newspaper Archive can sometimes be useful for interesting details
That’s an excellent way of finding information, using the surname and/or place name. But unpublished academic theses can also reveal a multitude too
Newspapers often announced when roads, rail and services such as sewer or electricity and the construction of bridges
Check to see if anyone is doing a One Place Study near your ancestral place to get a better understanding. Research the parish registers for whole-of-parish context not just focus on your family.
I found mention of my father’s childhood suburb which was then a slum in Hansard – The Australian Parliament record. Gave a really good insight into the suburb at the time. aph.gov.au/parliamentary_…
for my childhood town I frequently refer to the local library online collection at uhcl.recollect.co.nz. Even found a picture of my brother recently. Also found Nana & Mum out socialising and myself in a town parade in 1966.
Google is my lazy way of researching my ancestral places and communities. There is so much available online and not just archives. Many organisations or places have a web page or two on the local history that leads to another interesting fact.
You cannot beat newspapers for understanding communities in the past. Especially through advertisements. They give you an idea of who lived in a place and what they did, sold and what trouble they got into!
You really can’t go past a good local history to provide context. Not the old-style type where the “big players” are the focus, but a down-to-earth approach and understanding. Local historians are also give superb support for helping understand your place.
Trove is a great resource of course, maps, census, websites for a particular town. Town pages on facebook often have old photos
I love the Cyclopedia of NZ when researching my family here, and then Samuel Lewis’s Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, and histpop.org for the census reports.
I have researched my ancestors places my visiting local libraries. Most seem to have a collection of old photographs or old books that are of interest.
Have you found it easier to understand your ancestral community in a city, town or village?
A brilliant question. To some extent village is easier because it’s more stable so patterns/habits/customs develop and can be used. Cities often imply migration (at least in my research) and new patterns emerging but noting clusters of migrants is gold
And you get to readily recognise the names of the area.
Yes, that’s exactly it. Over the weekend I decided to focus on one surname in calendar of wills for Dublin and as a result I’ve been able to identify/locate members of the family that had “disappeared” tied by address willcalendars.nationalarchives.ie/search/cwa/hom… via @
Great question! As a city person, I’d instinctively say the city ancestors, but I’m conscious I probably project things onto them. The rural communities have a more defined cast of characters you get to know, but I’ve no practical experience of that life.
There are occasions with smaller communities where you may hit the “cone of silence” because they don’t want you knowing their business or wonder about your motives. A local historian or colleague can give you credibility and ease the way.
Readers: What aspects of local history do you find interesting to research relating to your ancestors?