Much like genealogy , searching out your family history using a variety of tools and databases , constructing the history of your neighbourhood has become a fashionable hobby recently, with companies and databases springing up to offer their services to the confused neophyte to trawling public records. However, to get anywhere in researching the history of your locality and piecing any real information together, you are at some point going to have to consult the vast array of public records available for you to use. Governments have been storing information not just on their citizens, but on the dwellings they reside in, the towns, villages and cities they congregate in and the physical areas they sit on for hundreds of years and the vast majority of that information is available to you to look at.
Where to go
The first port of call for any researcher into local history would most likely be their local library. Researching local history is much the same as researching the history of a person – your local library has access and probably has the physical records themselves stashes away somewhere in the recesses and the staff there are actually paid to help you – so use them to your full advantage, that’s what they’re there for! Depending on how far you want to look back, you will want to ask for different resources. If you just want to look back to the twentieth century , then look for urban planning documents. If you want to go back to the 1700s-1800s, then maps, governmental records and church records may be the best bet. Any further back and you may have to contact specific institutions to see if you can take a look at their research .
Universities have people doing their doctoral theses on subjects like local history, so perhaps volunteering some of your time to help out might result in some access to records you can’t find anywhere else, so if your local library can’t find what you need, contacting educational institutions may be a useful port of call if you need something very specific or esoteric in nature.
In conclusion though, local history is much the same as family history with regards to using public records to find information for research purposes. You just have to know where to look, and with the advent of computerised records, that process is easier than ever.
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