COUNTY HISTORY BOOKS HOLD VALUABLE CLUES TO RESEARCH
June 10, 2012
In 1876, many United States county histories were commissioned to celebrate the first one hundred years after the birth of our country. For old counties formed when the state was created, these provide us with a wealth of information and a visual map of where our families lived in those early days. These may describe the churches and the religious groups, cemeteries, schools, fire and police departments, the political environment as well as biographies of those living in the early communities. Those covering the sketches of local people are often referred to in the genealogical community as ‘mug books.’
Some of these mug books solicited local families to appear in the publications for a price while others printed the information at no cost, but required the families to prepare and submit the family history themselves. In addition to finding your bloodline relatives, you may also discover collateral lines such as aunts, uncles and cousins. For this reason, I suggest you look for county histories where your forbearers lived.
Since not all counties have histories, search for church histories, histories of fraternal societies, etc. Do not close your mind to the possibility that at an earlier time and place your family may have belonged to another religion or to a so-called secret society. Additionally, do not be discouraged that some of the older books have little or no index, or at the very least a limited one.
Probably most used by early searchers of Southern states are those published by Goodspeed in the latter half of the 19th century. It contained some fascinating information on my bloodline family as well as collateral family. Regardless how informative, it may not be provable! I was not able to verify through available documents that one of my immigrant ancestors with particularly itchy feet migrated into the Carolinas or served in the Revolutionary War. Although I could never prove his going into the Carolinas or his military service, I did use the information when I wrote my family history on this line. I cited the source and noted that I had not been able to prove this information as fact. Will I ever prove it? With the mass of information appearing online every day, it is possible if I live long enough.
Find county histories in library catalogs, in Kory L. Meyerink’s chapter “County and Local Histories” in Printed Sources: A Guide to Published Genealogical Records, as digitized records online and in the union catalog of digital resources, OAISTER at www.oaister.org.
Although county history books often contain the peanut butter and jelly to glue your family history to their counties of residence, not all of the information provided can be proven. Many have gross errors such as misspelled names, military service, incorrect dates especially relating to vital information, land ownership, misstatements regarding wealth, etc. Errors are in other genres and not unique to county histories. Nevertheless, these should be consulted. If you use the information, do site the publication’s name, articulate the problem, and include whether the information was factual, partially true or what part was false. Even with errors, county histories are still the best resource for the history of the region.
An excellent paper on this topic appears online at www.accessible-archives.com/collections/american-county-histories-to-1900/a-white-paper-american-county-histories/.
CARRY-ALONG COLLIN: The Collin County Historical Commission will jumpstart the program on June 2 at 11 a.m. at the Allen Depot/Heritage Center. Information is now available at libraries and museums. Experienced geocaching expert Jim O’Neill provides instruction Saturday to get you started on this fun and educational adventure. Smartphones can capture sites using the Munzee Game to add another level of fun to the search. It deploys a Munzee tag, a green tag with a QR code, found near the marker at each of the 20 selected marker sites. Kids and adults alike enjoy this modern day scavenger hunt. For more information or to record you participation email either firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Brenda Kellow has a bachelor's degree in history, teaches, and lectures on genealogy. Before retiring to publish her family’s histories in 2007, Brenda held certification as a Certified Genealogist and as a certified Genealogical Instructor. Send reunion announcements, books to review, and genealogy queries to: TracingOurRoots@gmail.com.