County Histories: Strategies and Tips

When looking for county history entries regarding your ancestors or collateral relatives, I have a few tips and strategies for you.

First, look for county histories published in the areas where your ancestors lived. For Samuel Cook Dimick, I found him in the Wood County, Ohio county history, but also found mention of him in a few publications in Grafton County, New Hampshire. Don’t limit yourself to where they ended up. Expand your searches.

If you find the county history on a digital repository such as Google Books or Internet Archive, those services have decent searching capabilities and OCR (optical character recognition). You may also see if a supplemental index exists. The original county histories were rarely indexed though you may find a Table of Contents that lists the names of the subjects of the biographical sketches. When I began working on Samuel Cook Dimick, I was fortunate to discover that the Wood County Chapter of the Ohio Genealogical Society had published an index to the Wood County history.

Title page of the Wood County Index.

One book that has been a valuable resource for identifying county histories, has been A Bibliography of American County Histories by P. William Filby. This book contains a state-by-state listing of county histories. Some county histories encompassed several counties in one region. County histories can also be found at the local public library of the county that the history is about. If you cannot find a digital copy, don’t forget the public library. Utilize the local library’s catalog or WorldCat to help you find a copy.

You may be able to find most of these county histories in online digital repositories because many of them are coming out of copyright and are in the public domain. The benefit of these is that you can download them right to your computer. You may find different versions online, or the digitization my have lumped volumes one and two together rather than as separate books.

There are a lot of places to find digitized books these days.

There are probably more, but these are my top places to visit to find county histories.

County histories are a valuable resource full of information on topics of community context. They give us fantastic clues on our ancestors and provide a lot more research avenues for us to follow. Remember, though, the information in them is subject to scrutiny. These sketches are very rarely documented and were written by the family, usually, so the details may have been embellished to make the family sound more prominent. That’s not to say they should be completely discounted or tossed aside. So far, I have not found an error in the information I have been able to corroborate on Samuel Cook Dimick from his biographical sketch. These sources should be an integral part of your research plan when researching your ancestors.

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