County Histories: A Valuable Resource

County histories have been a huge help to my research over the years and so I wanted to take some time to discuss them. There are definitely pros and cons when it comes to working with county histories. Big pro, often they were informed by family members, people who should know the data being published. Big con, there are rarely citations, well because of the previous “pro” mostly. Why would you give a citation for something you know from firsthand knowledge or at the very least, family lore?

The author’s copy of the county history for Wood County, Ohio.

County histories are, well, histories of a particular county. You may also find regional histories that encompass several counties in one. Primarily, they provide a history of the area and sometimes biographical sketches of many of the citizens of that county. They are sometimes called “mug books” or “vanity sketches.” Traditional county histories were published by companies who sold “subscriptions” to the book in order to have a family’s sketch included. You may also find county histories that were funded as a project by a county or town for an anniversary, or by a historical or genealogical society in that town.

Generally speaking, county histories became popular around 1876, at the centennial of the United States, and typically followed the lineage of that family back to their immigrant ancestor as a way to celebrate the growth of the nation. These books were published for about a 45-year period until about 1920. You may also find some books that could be considered county histories published near the bicentennial in 1976. Some of these later publications may be in the form of oral history interviews and recollections.

These county histories are not just an excellent source for a large amount of information about a family, they also contain valuable information about the formation of the county or region as well. Over the next several weeks, we will look at county histories, many as they related to personal research projects and how they guided my research.

6 thoughts on “County Histories: A Valuable Resource

  1. I am also a big fan of county histories. The biographical sketches in the back were generally submitted by family members and provide information that cannot been found anywhere else (though I do to try and confirm with other sources). Considering boundary changes, I suggest also checking the histories of the counties that predated the modern county. For example, Alexander McNaughton lived and died in Venango County, PA, but is buried in Clarion County, PA (boundary changed after he died). I found information in the Clarion County History and in the Venango County History books.

    1. You make a great point that will be covered in a later post when I get to tips and tricks. I have the original submission form for the Dimick entry we will be examining. Stay tuned!

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