How to Get Started in Local History

Research Advice in Local History

  • Where did that road originally lead?
  • How were the poor looked after in the village in the eighteenth century?
  • How did the coming of the railway affect the community in the 1830's?
  • What is the history of my house and others in the high street?
We have all been intrigued by the history of our locality at some stage in our lives. If you are reading this you may want to take your curiousity further and actually carry out your own research. You do not need qualifications to do this but a little preparation will be beneficial and may save you time and money along the way.

But how to begin?

Here is some advice to get your research on track. There are several good ways to start finding out more about the local history of your area and I have listed some of them below:

Useful Books on Local History

To begin with it may be convenient to read up on local studies before leaving the comfort of your armchair. There are several general books on researching local history available in your local library, or alternatively, if you really don't want to leave your nice comfy chair you can order them online. The publications section on this website has more details. The general books at the top of the list are recommended.

Oral History

Don't forget to discover if there are older residents who have personal memories of the subject of your researches. A great deal of time could be saved here. Take along a camera, note book and small recorder if you interviewee does not mind. Always prepare before your visit and try to devise relevant questions. But remember, personal recollections often need to be collaborated or verified by other evidence if available. There is plenty of advice in the general books mentioned above. Many oral studies have been carried out in recent years from the history of particular streets (Athol Street oral history project at the University of Liverpool Dept of History) to football memories (eg. Three Sides of the Mersey: Oral History of Everton, Liverpool and Tranmere Rovers by Rogan Taylor). The BBC Voices pages provides many links to web based memories on subjects such as community history and memories of the Blitz.

Field Walking/Site Visits

How has the community developed around the church? Is it the oldest surviving building? What about the local park? was it specially created amenity or the former estate of a local shipping magnate? A site visit is often essential and much more can be learned. New questions will arise too. Again, be prepared. Take recording equipment, including cameras and notebooks. Take along early photographs and maps if you can to help you understand the development of the site. Several books are recommended, especially;

  • The Making of the English Landscape - W.G. Hoskins
  • Fieldwork in Local History - W.G. Hoskins
  • Interpreting the Landscape - Mick Aston
  • Maps for Local History - Brian Paul Hindle
The Local Record Office

In preparation

See Local Archives Links Pages on this site

Join a Society

There are Local History societies all over the country and there is a good chance there is one catering for your area of interest. Some societies are linked to University History or Archaeology departments and have an academic emphasis, but this does not preclude beginners from joining. Nevertheless, there are many more societies run by enthusiastic locals which are dedicated to the local history of their part of the world and are efficiently organised. New members including beginners are always wlecomed.

The are usually monthly meetings, which include local news bulletins and a lecture by a visiting speaker. Many societies undertake research projects and produce a journal, and sometimes a publication of aspects of the history of the area.

There is a comprehensive list of societies on this site - Click here

Useful Magazines

Most societies will produce a newletter or magazine and aften an annual journal. Local History magazines available off the shelf, even in the major newsagents, are rare. Most will require membership and subscription. Recommended are;

  • Local History Magazine
  • Local History Magazine was established in 1984 and is published six times a year, available by postal subscription only. Every issue contains a mixture of news, articles, book and periodical reviews, readers' notices and information.

  • The Local Historian
  • Published by the British Association for Local History, their purpose is to encourage and assist the study of Local History as an academic discipline and as a rewarding leisure pursuit for both individuals and groups. Published in February, May, August and November.

    All back copies are available and can be purchased for 2.50 each. The Local Historian contains articles and features for the general reader that may be of a wide, perhaps national, application or may reflect a local subject. There is emphasis on applying principles and methods to local research and study, so that you can benefit from the work of others. Family historians can learn about the local world in which their forebears lived and worked. There are extensive reviews and lists of publications.

Enrol on a Course

In Preparation

See Local Courses Links Page on this site

Help on the Web

BBC History website - How to do Local History

Local History Magazine 'Getting Started' page is most useful to the beginner

Visit the Royden History Index Page listing web sites designed and maintained by Mike Royden
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