Tag Archives: mug books

County Histories: What’s In Them?

If you haven’t used a county history or found your ancestors in one, I encourage you to look. Later in this series we will get to some search and locating techniques. Let’s discuss what you might expect to find in a county history.

Many county histories have two parts, even if they are not formally called out. Generally speaking, there is the part that discusses the history of the county, of the place, itself. This section will contain information on topics such as: early geography, geology, Native American tribes in the area, early settlers, the first towns in that county, the first government officials, the first churches, schools, and so on.

Table of Contents from the Wood County, Ohio county history.

From the table of contents for the history from Wood County, Ohio, you can see several topics just from this one section of the page that would be of interest to genealogists: newspapers, medicine, military, churches, schools, early pioneers, agricultural societies, etc.

You might find more modern publications such as Patterns and Pieces from Lyme, New Hampshire. As you can see, many similar topics are included.

Title page from Patterns and Pieces.

Then there is the second section, the section with the biographical sketches of our ancestors. These biographical sketches usually followed a male and his lineage back to the immigrant ancestor. Sometimes you will also get a lineage from his wife back to her immigrant ancestor, usually along her father’s line. If you are lucky, you might find a photograph or a sketch of your ancestor (I have not been that lucky yet.)

Next time, we will look at one of my favorite biographical sketches.

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.