Beginners' guides to local and family history
This website is intended to be a resource for family or local historians who have already done a fair amount of research using their local library and the census data and are looking for other information sources to broaden or deepen their research. So if you're just starting out compiling your family tree or researching the history of your house then this probably isn't the website for you.
Listed below are several websites which would be a good place to start your research. (Note that this list assumes that you're based in the UK.)
Family history sites
The three sites below all give excellent introductory tutorials to starting your family history research, and give links to lots of online research resources you can use.
- FamilyRecords.gov.uk -- this is probably the best place to start if you're from the UK. The introductory tutorial is brief and to the point, and there is a very useful guide to genealogy software and a list of books that you'll find helpful.
- The BBC's family history trail -- a more detailed and technical introduction to family history, with lots of examples and interative quizes. This is particularly useful for its guide to using census data.
- The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints -- this is the largest international organisation providing family history resources. If you know that you have branches of your family outside the UK then this is probably the best place to start.
Each of the introductory tutorials are essentially variations on the same themes, so we'd recommend that you read all three and pick out the advice that best suits you. The best advice that we can offer is:
Do not be intimidated!
If you look at the three sites we recommend, and then look at all the sites that they recommend, then all the sites that they recommend, you will rapidly find that there are thousands (literally) of sites to look at, and that's before you've even started drawing up your family tree. It all seems hopelessly confusing and complicated and you might as well give up now. Don't! Pick out a three or four interesting looking resources and work with them to start with, you can always go back to the others later.
Local history sites
Local history is rather more nebulous than family history. Putting it simply family history is about building up a picture of your family, where what is or isn't your family is well defined. Local history is about building up a picture of the history of your locality, where what counts as your locality may be your house, street, town or city. Also local historians tend to be looking for evidence of certain aspects of their locality: its social conditions, its political history and so on. Also whereas unless they're very lucky family historians will struggle to trace their families earlier than 1750, local historians may be able to trace their local history from Roman times onwards.
The upshot of all this is that there are not so many online tutorials about local history which tell you exactly what to do to get your local history research off the ground, because how you do that is heavily dependent on exactly what you want to research.
The places we recommend to get your local history research started are:
- Your local public library -- the best resource for local history research will be your local public library. Many public libraries have extremely extensive and helpful local history sections. Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be a centralised list of UK public libraries with local history sections, but you if you type the name of your town and "local history" into Google you are likely to find references to any local libraries.
- The RDN Internet for Historians tutorial -- an excellent tutorial with lots of usefully annotated links, written for the Resource Discovery Network by Oxford University's Humanities Computing Unit.
- The Getting Started section of the website for Local History Magazine -- offers a thorough introduction to local historical research, with advice on visiting local archives, reading about local history, local history societies, adult education courses, local museums, 'going for a walk', consulting local history catalogues and selecting books that advise on local history.
- The British Association for Local History's site contains a sizeable list of links to individual local history groups, and useful online research tools.