United States, Histories of Towns, Counties, and StatesEdit This Page
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IntroductionCounty Histories and Your Family in the FamilySearch Learning Center.
US Histories are a valuable resource for the genealogist interested in United States genealogy and family history. Histories are available for various areas in America since its earliest settlements and colonization in the 1600s. They may be written about specific events, ethnic groups, towns, cities, counties, and, and the United States in general and can often include limited biographies of people and families in the area. Many have been written to celebrate an anniversary such as the 100th anniversary of the founding of a town or colony.
Writing county histories became popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s. They often featured people then living in the county and can be a valuable resource for the genealogist, depending upon the validity of the work. Genealogy researchers should make every effort to verify a history's facts when using them in their family history or on their pedigree.
Histories may be written using primary, secondary or even tertiary sources and documentation. Depending upon the bias and abilities of the author and the resources available to them, the history may or may not be true or reliable. Readers must take all of this into consideration when using a history to "discover your ancestor's place in history.
What You Are Looking For
The information you find varies from record to record. These records may include:
- Dates and places of birth, marriage, and death.
- Names of parents.
- Names of spouse and children.
- Date and place of marriage.
- Biographical information.
These 6 steps may help you find information in histories.
Step 1. Determine where your ancestor lived.
Check the following to find a place where your ancestor lived:
- Family records (histories, pedigree charts, family group sheets, and so on).
- Family histories.
For additional ways to find where your ancestor lived, see How to Locate Your Ancestor in the United States.
Step 2. Find and acquire histories of that area.
For titles of records for the area, search the catalogs or listings of the following:
- The Internet.
- Family History Centers and the Family History Library.
- Research Wiki articles (see Tip 1).
- Genealogical and historical.
Usually you should look for a town history first because you are more likely to find prominent and non-prominent individuals mentioned in town histories. State histories usually only mention prominent people of the state.
If you do not find a town history, see Tip 2.
For information on how to obtain copies of histories, see Where to Find It.
You can often have books or films sent to your public library through inter-library loan. For more information about inter-library loans, see Tip 3.
Step 3. Search the index for your ancestor's name.
Find your ancestor's name in the index. Most indexes are at the back of the book, but some are in front or in a separate volume. Now there are many indexes to Genealogical Collections.
If you cannot find your ancestor's name, check for variations of the spelling. For suggestions, see Name Variations:
- Guessing a Name Variation
- Name Variations in United States Indexes and Records
- [[Name Variations in Canadian Indexes and Records
If there is no index, scan through the history for a section about your ancestor's town.
Step 4. Search the history for information about your ancestor.
Using what you found in step 3, find and read the part in the history about:
- Your ancestor.
- The area where your ancestor lived.
- The time when your ancestor lived in the area.
If you do not find your ancestor, see Tip 4.
Step 5. Copy the information from the history.
Make a photocopy of the pages with the information about your ancestor and the area.
Be sure to document the source of the information by writing the title, author, book or film number, and page number on the copy or photocopy the title page at the front of the book or film. Also write the name of the library or archive where you found the history.
By copying the entire page, you can study the record in depth and save it for future reference. You can analyze the handwriting and note other details you may have missed when you first looked at the record. You may find other relatives of your ancestor.
Step 6. Analyze the information you found.
To make effective use of what you learned, determine the following:
- Where was the person born?
- Who were his or her relatives, and where were they born?
- Does this information match what you know about the family?
Does the history give more clues about your ancestor that could guide you to other records, such as mentioning:
- Military service. Example: Tennessee Military Records
- Immigration. Example: Tennessee Emigration and Immigration
- When he or she moved into or out of the area. Example: Tennessee Emigration and Immigration
- Occupation. Example: Tennessee Occupations
- Any schools or colleges attended. Example:
- Relatives Example: Anderson County, Tennessee#Cemeteries, Anderson County, Tennessee#Naturalizations or Anderson County, Tennessee#Vital_Records
Tip 1. What records are recommended in research Wiki articles?
Tip 2. What can I do if I cannot find a history for the area where my ancestor lived?
If you cannot find a history for the town, or if you would like more information, look for a history of the county, and then for a history for the state. Example: Anderson County, Tennessee, or State of Tennessee
Tip 3. How can I use inter-library loan?
Many public and college libraries can borrow books from other libraries and archives. Only public and college libraries with microfilm readers can borrow microfilms. Buying, Borrowing, or Searching a Book
- Go to your public or college library.
- Search a Library on the internet
- Ask the librarian to check out a book or microfilm for you through inter-library loan. You need to give the librarian the title of the book and the name of the author. For a microfilm, give the name and address of the archive that has the microfilm and their microfilm number. You also can search the FamilySearch Research Wiki or search at FamilySearch.org
- The library staff will help you with their procedures. There may be a small fee.
Tip 4. What should I do if I cannot find my ancestor in a history?
Look for a historical article in a magazine about your ancestor or the area where he or she lived.
A good index of genealogical and historical magazines is PERSI (PERiodical Source Index). PERSI indexes about 5,000 magazines. You can search it by surname, county, and state.
PERSI is available at:
- Family History Centers on microfiche.
- Family History Library.
- Many public and college libraries.
Where To Find It
Ancestry.com has PERSI, has scanned many books, and displays them at this site.
- Canada GenWeb.
- CyndisList has links to thousands of sites that contain genealogy information of all kinds.
Many Family History Centers and the Family History Library have or can order histories. These may be available as books or on microfilms. FamilySearch.org has many searchable collection that are now indexed and can be easily searched. Also the Family Search Catalog can be searched and will help you know what is had in most cases in the Family History Library and the Family History Centers. You can find a Family History Center near you.
See Family History Centers for the address, phone number and map to find the center nearest you.
For descriptions of records available through Family History Centers or the Family History Library, place on Family History Library Catalog click on any of these links. You can also go to the following.
How to Use the Record Search at Family Search.org
Go to Family Search enter the information you have on a individual and search. You can limit you search with the type of record, event or relationship.
At the bottom of this page you can also search in specific collections called Browse by Location. Here you click on the area of the World you want. It will take you to a group of indexes. You then select the ones most likely to contain the information about the individual you are researching.
How to Use the Family History Library Catalog
There are eight ways to use this search. The following page will help you to use this search method.
- Family History Library Catalog Surname Search
- Family History Library Catalog Keyword Search
- Family History Library Catalog Title Search
- Family History Library Catalog Author Search
- Family History Library Catalog Subject Search
- Family History Library Catalog Place-name Search
- Family History Library Catalog Call Number Search
- Family History Library Catalog Film or Fiche Search
Archives and Libraries
Records are available in many archives and libraries.
Click to find major archives and libraries in the United States.
Many college and larger public libraries have histories, particularly for their own areas. Smaller public libraries may be able to obtain the records through interlibrary loan. For information about inter-library loan, see Tip 2.
- You can find addresses and phone numbers for town, county, and college libraries in the American Library Directory $. The American Library Directory is available at most public and college libraries.
- Library of Congress
- Public Libraries.com
- Library of Congress Catalog <br.
- Search for Libraries by state
- United States Archives and Libraries
Addresses for many archives and libraries can be found in the above lists.
Most state archives and university libraries have histories, particularly for their own areas. Put "Archives and Libraries" in the Research Wiki research box on the upper right side of this page and find most of the libraries in each state in the United States and many in the world.
Genealogical and Historical Societies
Some records may be available at genealogical and historical societies.
You may find the names and addresses of societies in the following sources, which are available at many public and college libraries:
- The Genealogist's Address book, by Elizabeth Petty Bentley. Many copies at the Family History Library and available therefore at all Family History Centers
- of Genealogical and Historical Societies in the U.S., Canada and Australiaon the internet. Can get list by each state.
- Preservation Directory Thousands in list.
- The Encyclopedia of Associations, published by Gale Research Co.
- CyndisList has links to thousands of sites that contain genealogy information of all kinds.
Genealogical Search Services
Many genealogical search services will search family histories for a fee. These sources can help you find a genealogical search service:
- CyndisList "Professional Researchers, Volunteers Other Research Services" lists many companies, individuals, and organizations that do research and mentions publications about how to hire a professional genealogist.
- Advertisements in major genealogical journals may help you find a researcher.
For more information, see Hiring a Professional Genealogist.