This is Week 33 in my Beyond the Internet series in which I explore the sources of information beyond our computer screens and the topic is Local History: Centres, Libraries and Local Histories. This is part of the Archives and Libraries section of the series.
Local History Centres/Heritage Centres
Local History centres aka Heritage Centres can be gold mines for family history research. Of course not all centres are created equal, as much depends on the resources available and the enthusiasm and expertise of the centre teams, often volunteers. Nevertheless there are nuggets of information to be gleaned. This is where you are likely to find old newspapers (perhaps not a full run) which may not yet have made it on Trove. You may also find that there are old-timers who have personal knowledge relating to the history of the place when your family lived there. The local history group may even have indexed the burials in the local cemetery.
As an example, back in the late 1980s I visited the Crows Nest Folk Museum on the Darling Downs. Thanks to the hard work of their volunteers I got an obituary from a small newspaper for my 2xgreat grandfather Denis Gavin; saw a war memorial board with his grandsons’ names; and was given an oral history about Denis’s second wife. While his wife’s story of their meeting has been disproved by further research, it was nevertheless an interesting story given to a small boy many decades before. (Remember that D for discernment attribute?)
Also on the centre’s shelves is likely to be a collection of books on the local history. Especially with older publications these may have had only a small print run and may be difficult to find elsewhere. In the Gatton Historical Centre I found a small book which told of a corroboree at Murphy’s Creek in the railway-building days when my ancestors were there. So far I’ve not located any other reference to it.
Similarly there may be a collection of local photographs which are not available online or in other libraries as local families donate images to the Centre’s collection.
But it’s not just paper documentation that can be helpful with your research. Some centres have old farming implements and kitchenware, that will illuminate your family’s pioneering days, and in some cases bring memories flooding back.
Driving from Darwin to Brisbane and Canberra through western towns, the mushrooming of these local heritage centres is evident. Whether it’s a reflection of the boom in our interest in Australian history or a strategy to bring life back to the country towns, it’s definitely a boon to our research. Nor is this kind of heritage centre only available in Australia: there are similar places throughout the world. You can use this link to identify Aussie centres.
Even if there’s no heritage centre for your town of interest, do search for any local histories which may have been published. They are absolutely gold. I learnt so much from the local histories of Dorfprozelten am Main in Bavaria. You can set up a Google alert to let you know when one becomes available or you just search the internet from time to time. I’ve picked up a few local histories this way, as someone clears out their bookshelves of out-of-print books.
Local Studies in Libraries
While I’ve mainly focused on the local heritage centre or similar, don’t forget that there may be a dedicated local history section in the regional library: definitely worth exploring for different information. An overseas example is the local history/local studies section of the Limerick Library, Co Limerick or the East Clare Heritage magazine. You just never know where you might find what you’re looking for, or just another family clue or snippet to flesh out your story. I found a bundle of great photos from Chinchilla Library for the family of one of my Dorfprozelten Germans.
Blogging about Local History successes
Here are a couple of links to recent blog posts about the discoveries made from local history research. There have been others over the months but these will give you the idea.
Roots’n’Leaves: Joan talks about her family discoveries in Bentley, Alberta, Canada.
My Genealogy Adventure: Tanya talks about the Richmond District Historical Centre.
Give it a go
Hopefully these stories will give you the impetus to use local history and heritage centres in your research whether in Australia or overseas. There is just so much you might discover, and don’t forget not to focus entirely on your own family name: the experience of others living in the same place will have many overlaps.
If you have had great discoveries in heritage centres or local history libraries, why not share them in a comment or in your own blog post.
Even though I’m on the downhill slope of this 52 week series, with the remaining topics mapped out (though occasionally re-sequenced), it’s feeling like a long haul. Any cheer squad support from my geneablogger buddies would be much appreciated. I think I can, I think I can. Well I know I will, but some weeks the energy and enthusiasm wane.