Using Books

Time Travel Guides Resources for local and family history

Using Books for Local and Family History Research

Time Travel Guides: Resources for Local and Family History » Using Books

Books can be useful resources for local and family history. Many books have been written about the histories of specific places or families and there are also lots of old directories, guides, and other historical books that can contain useful information.

How to Access

Libraries and archives often maintain collections of books on local history. The librarians can also help you to identify books that might contain useful information. You may be able to order these to your local library, find another place to read them, or buy them from a bookshop. Some older books can be harder to find as there may only be a few existing copies available in a small number of libraries. You may only be able to see these books if you can visit the library in person as they aren’t always allowed out for loan. However, many older books have been digitised and made available online. You may be able to find useful texts through Google Books, the Hathi Trust, or other sites. You should be able to search inside these digitised versions for relevant names or keywords, which can make it easier to find the information you need.

What Material is Available?

Various types of books can be helpful for local and family history. Some are old texts that were written at the time, while others were written while looking back into the past.

  • Books on specific events, eras, or topics (e.g. military history, social history, medical history) – can provide background and may include case studies about a place or person you’re interested in
  • Local histories – often give an overview of a specific village, town, organisation, or area through the ages
  • Family histories – collect together information about one family, usually an influential family or the author’s own ancestors
  • Transcriptions – indexes or complete transcriptions of a set of documents such as wills or parish registers
  • Trade or street directories – list who lived or worked in a specific area at the time they were written
  • Old guidebooks – describe an area and give useful information for travellers
  • Heraldic visitations – family trees of wealthy families, often largely based on their own claims (which may not be accurate)
  • Historical fiction – can give you a sense of the time period and may include the events or people you’re researching, but shouldn’t be treated as fact

When to Use Books

Books can provide deeper insights into many historical topics, but their availability depends on whether anyone has written about the people and places you’re interested in. You will also need to consider the reliability of these texts. Old books such as directories and modern transcriptions of historical sources can also provide information that might not be available through other sources such as genealogy sites.

Tips on Using Books for Local and Family History

1. Searching in Online Books

If the book you need has been digitised then you should be able to search for specific names, places, or other terms in the text. Using the online version can make finding the information you need much easier. If you’re using a hard copy of the book, then you can check the index, but it won’t always include all the terms you might be looking for.

2. Finding the Original Sources

Books can provide useful information or analysis, but sometimes it is necessary to find the original sources that the author used. You might need to check that the information is correct or look for additional details that weren’t included in the book. Good history books should provide details of the sources they used in footnotes or a bibliography. You may be able to access these through genealogy websites, at an archive, or elsewhere. As well as checking the original source, it is also useful to record the details of the book and the page numbers where you found useful information so that you will be able to locate it again.