You can discover more about your ancestor’s life by studying county or parish histories. Even if you do not see the person you are researching mentioned in the history, you may be able to glean much more information from a well-written history than what you are able to learn from historical documentation alone.
County histories can make fascinating reads, and using them will help you be able to discern research avenues worth pursuing. Ten topics that you will most likely learn more about from county histories are:
1. County formations and old roads: Rivers and roads were important passage ways. Maps included in county histories are quite useful because they reveal these pathways and help you determine where your ancestor lived. Some churches or settlements included on these maps survived for many years.
Those old roads connected your ancestor to other communities or areas, and they often migrated along these routes.
2. Old settlements: What were the names of the places where your ancestor settled? These places were often older than the first county, and you can research the names of settlements to learn about the first people who migrated to the area.
3. Early pioneers: The biographies of local families are often included in county histories. Your ancestor may not be among the names of the first people to settle in an area. If they came along later, it is still helpful to know the names of schools and churches established before their arrival.
4. Military battles: From the Revolutionary War, to the War of 1812, to the Civil War and beyond, the military history documented in local histories provides yet another chance you may learn more about the experiences of your ancestor.
5. Schools: Great sacrifices were made to build and fund schools. Often these institutions received support from local churches. A paper trail may exist revealing the names of students, faculty, and communities.
6. Churches and denominations: The existence of a church signifies the existence of a community. Study the church histories mentioned as well as the history of the religious affiliation of your ancestor and the history of that denomination in the locality where they lived.
7. Occupations: Learn about your ancestor’s trade or occupation where they may have exchanged property or services. County records may disclose sales bills, inventories, or appraisals. Determine which records exist on the county level and when they were generated. See United States Occupations.
8. Political history: Learning who had jurisdiction over an area at any given time will help you understand who had stewardship over records.
9. Immigrants to the area: You may discover that you descend from one of the earlier immigrants in an area. It is possible to research immigrant ancestors who migrated during the Colonial Era. See Early U. S. Immigration Records
10. Cemeteries: Societies and organizations are taking great pains to index and document those buried in local cemeteries. Check with the local genealogical society or library to find out which publications or cemetery indexes exist. Early cemeteries are often mentioned in county histories.