Although not publicized as such, local historical societies can be a wealth of genealogical information and are able to provide period flavor to your writing. Oftentimes, descendents of local families will bequeath their family heirlooms to historical societies.
How do you find these societies so you can check them out? There are a couple of ways. In this age of the Internet, most historical societies have a web presence, even if it is just a directory listing on a larger umbrella site. Searching Google for "[name of state] historical societies" should bring up many listings. If you know the town and/or surrounding towns where your ancestor lived, a search on the specific town may yield a result as well. Some of the smaller towns, however, may not have historical societies.
For the smaller towns, the local public library is often the recipient of historical documents and memorabilia. If you are unable to find a historical society in the area of your research, check the local public library. Most reference librarians will know where the documents are kept. It pays to be diligent in your searching.
Local antiques dealers are usually well versed in an area's history and many times will know where the local historical treasures can be found. Many attend estate sales of local families and buy lots of furniture, jewelry, and old documents. Perusing the telephone directory at your local public library for the area of choice or via an Internet telephone directory may yield dealers in the area of interest.
Local newspapers are another good resource for finding out where in the town or city you should direct your search. For the smaller towns without a local newspaper, you may need to research surrounding communities. Visiting www.townonline.com brings up a listing of all Massachusetts towns where you are able to subscribe to the on-line version of any of the town/city local newspapers. Another choice is www.newspapers.com. Here you can search through different state's newspapers. By reading through several issues you should be able to ascertain the correct individual to address your query.
As a last resort, you can contact the town or city clerk's office for information. Realize that a town or city clerks' job does not encompass genealogical and/or historical research; therefore, make your request succinct and to the point. Have a definitive goal in mind, for example, "I'm looking for George and Martha (Davis) Smith's marriage record from 1894" is appropriate. "I need to know George Smith's wife's ten siblings names and the names of her parents." is not.
Keep an open and curious mind when researching. Just because a place is not commonly known for its genealogical collections doesn't mean it doesn't have one.
Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2006.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.
*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.
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