Non-Fiction Review: Researching Local History: Your Guide to the Sources, by Stuart A Raymond

OVERVIEW

book cover

How has the place we live in changed, developed, and grown over the centuries? That is the basic question local historians seek to answer. The answer is to be found in the sources of information that previous generations have left us. The records of parish, county, and diocesan administration, of the courts, of the national government, and of private estates, all have something to tell us about the history of the locality we are interested in. So do old newspapers and other publications. All of these sources are readily available, but many have been little used.

Local historians come from a wide diversity of backgrounds. But whether you are a student researching a dissertation, a family historian interested in the wider background history of your family, a teacher, a librarian, an archivist, an academic, or are merely interested in the history of your own area, this book is for you. If you want to research local history, you need a detailed account of the myriad sources readily available. This book provides a comprehensive overview of those sources, and its guidance will enable you to explore and exploit their vast range. It poses the questions which local historians ask, and identifies the specific sources likely to answer those questions.

MY REVIEW

Disclaimer: Although I received an electronic copy of this book from the publisher, the opinions below are my own.

I’m an amateur genealogist. There’s no better way to keep me occupied than to access my account on Ancestry.com. I can spend hours on that site, slowly discovering the branches of the McCombs family tree in the USA going back several generations. Researching my own British heritage, however, has often been a bit trickier. Researching Local History has revealed a wealth of sources I never knew existed.

This is not a boring list of publications. Far from it. I learned a lot about the history of my birth country. The first chapter starts with the basics. “What is Local History?” it asks. The author, Stuart A Raymond, suggests a good knowledge of English history is needed by anyone looking to do research. History is what can tell us why an ancestor moved from one place to another, for example. For Americans, knowing English history can tell you why your English ancestor moved across the Atlantic Ocean. Local history can enhance that understanding. What was it like in the village where your ancestor grew up?

Each chapter is short, containing an introductory and explanatory text, followed by the author’s chosen list of reading. In chapter two, I discovered an online source with historical descriptions of a couple of churches I knew my ancestors had attended. What surprised me was how many different records still existed, even from as far back as the 1300s. Previously, I’d only been able to get back to the early 1800s. Each section of these chapters contains a wealth of historical detail in the text, covering all aspects of English life from agriculture to industry and the Church to leisure. This book includes an index of the various subjects discussed, helping researchers access the relevant sources quickly.

If there’s a downside to this book it’s that most of the records prior to the Acts of Union 1707 – when the country of Great Britain came into existence – appear to be from England. I didn’t find many sources from Scotland and Wales. For me, with half of my family coming from Scotland, that’s problematic.

I read Researching Local History in an electronic format, but I strongly suggest getting a paper copy. The text has references to other pages, and I find it easier to find those pages when handling a print book. I plan on getting a print copy, and I’ve no doubt it’ll become dogeared with plenty of pencil markings in it as I explore the various sources it contains.

RATING

Rating: 4 out of 5.

BOOK INFORMATION

Publisher: Pen & Sword

Publication Date: 30 June 2022 (UK) / 07 Sept 2022 (USA)

Book Information

STUART A RAYMOND

Stuart Raymond was formerly librarian of the Yorkshire Archaeological Society. He is an experienced family and local historian, and an expert on the history of wills and local records. Among his most recent publications are The Wills of Our Ancestors, Tracing Your Ancestors in County Records, Tracing Your Nonconformist Ancestors and Tracing Your Church of England Ancestors. He has also published a wide variety of other handbooks, web directories and library guides for family and local historians.

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