Genealogy: Researching township, city, and state histories and biographies

10-14-2014 10-28-58 PMBy Barry J. Ewell

Local, county, and state histories detail the events that occurred and the people who played a part. These histories detail the early settlements, who held what offices, who founded various towns, including when different churches were started and other valuable information. It is common to find histories that were written between 1870 and 1920 with biographical sketches of the individuals and families. The majority of these histories were written in the west and those states bordering the Great Lakes or Midwest states. These histories give insight and are helpful to the researcher since this is the region where most of the immigrants settled.

What you will find. The following are the type of histories you can expect to find:

Local History. The overwhelming majority of local histories address how a particular region and its citizens handled and reacted to every major state and national happening. In these compilations, you can find how a community handled everything from wars, waves of immigrants, and depressions to changing political scenery, taxation, trade, and commerce. Each of these events affects what people do, where they live, what organizations they belong to, how they earn income, and how they dispose of that income. Knowing what neighborhoods developed during a particular time period, realizing when certain organizations came into and went out of business, being aware of various laws and codes, as well as local

Biography. A biographical sketch can include almost any aspect of a person’s life, but generally contains information about the individual’s family, education, and occupation. Thus, biographical sketches usually tell the subject’s date of birth, parent’s names, and wife’s and children’s names and often their birth dates. Usually there is some information about where they were born. Even if we are not fortunate enough to find a biographical sketch of the subject of our interest, there are other things to consider. Even if your ancestor wasn’t prominent enough to get a mention, there may be other clues to his personality in these books. Also, you may want to consider whether the subject of a biographical sketch was related to the family in some way. Frequently, groups emigrated from the “old country” together, and by learning more about one member of a pioneer group, we can also find valuable clues to others.

Institutional Histories. Look for histories of the institutions that may have relevance to your family: churches, orphanages, charitable institutions, schools, hospitals and dispensaries, cultural institutions, cemeteries, or businesses.

Research insights. Start by determining when your ancestor lived. As you look for the local, county, and state histories, also look for books or volumes that focus solely on biographical sketches of many from the locality. Most of the sketches are written about men and generally include information about the family, education, and occupation. These sketches will also tell the subject’s date of birth, parent’s names, wife’s and children’s names. Usually there is some comment about where they were born.

Where to find these records. Genealogy and historical societies are usually great sources for finding histories, which are invaluable as you discover the roots of your ancestors. Also search libraries and archives.

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