United States, Histories of Towns, Counties, and States

From FamilySearch Wiki
Revision as of 00:31, 16 March 2012 by StroudIL (talk | contribs) (Created a link to the FamilySearch Learning Center lessons.)

Jump to: navigation, search


See County 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 states, 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 vverify 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:

  • Name.
  • 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.
  • Censuses.
  • Biographies.
  • Obituaries.

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).
  • Archives and libraries.
  • Genealogical and historical societies.

Usually you should look for a town history first because you are more likely to find prominent and nonprominent 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 interlibrary loan. For more information about interlibrary 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.

If you cannot find your ancestor's name, check for variations of the spelling. For suggestions, see Name Variations.

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.
  • Immigration.
  • When he or she moved into or out of the area.
  • Occupation.
  • Any schools or colleges attended.
  • Relatives


Tip 1. What records are recommended in research Wiki articles?

To see recommended histories for your ancestor's state, search the Research Wiki for the name of the state and the word "History."

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.

Tip 3. How can I use interlibrary 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.

  • Go to your public or college library.
  • Ask the librarian to check out a book or microfilm for you through interlibrary 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.
  • 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:

  • Ancestry.com.
  • 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.

Family History Centers and the Family History Library

Many Family History Centers and the Family History Library have or can order histories. These may be available as books or on microfilms. 

Family History Centers 

Family History Centers can borrow microfilms from the Family History Library.

See Family History Centers for the address and phone number of the center nearest you. 

Family History Library

For descriptions of records available through Family History Centers or the Family History Library, click on Family History Library Catalog in the window to the left.

  • In the window to the left, click on Family History Library Catalog.
  • State records will automatically appear.
  • To find town or city records, click on the city tab, and choose a town or city.
  • To find county records, click on the county tab, and choose a county.

Archives and Libraries

Records are available in many archives and libraries.

Some major archives and libraries in the United States are:

  • The Newberry Library (Chicago, IL).
  • The Library of Congress.
  • The New England Historic and Genealogical Society Library (Boston, MA).
  • The National Archives.
  • The Allen County Public Library (Ft. Wayne, IN).

Some major archives and libraries in Canada are:

  • The National Library of Canada.
  • The National Archives of Canada.

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 interlibrary 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.

Addresses for many archives and libraries can be found at Ready, 'Net, Go. Select Master List of Archives, and then look for library catalogs on-line.
Most state archives and university libraries have histories, particularly for their own areas. The "Archives and Libraries" Research Wiki article of a state lists Internet and mailing addresses for several state archives, libraries, and historical societies. These organizations may have histories, and Internet sites may list their records.

To see the "Archives and Libraries" Research Wiki article for your state.

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.
  • Directory of Genealogical and Historical Societies in the U.S. and Canada, published by Iron Gate Publishing.
  • Directory of Genealogical Societies in the U.S.A. and Canada, by Mary Meyer.
  • Directory of Historical Organizations in the United States and Canada, edited by Mary Bray Wheeler.
  • The Encyclopedia of Associations, published by Gale Research Co.

You can also check Internet sites for information about societies.

  • 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.