I want to learn history about the town I live in, where do I go?

I want to learn history about the town I live in, where do I go to find this info? Libraries? The municipal court house? History museum?

Suppose it would depend on where you live and what you want to know about it.

If there is a history museum, start there. And check out the library; often, there will be a local collection. Here in Big Houston, the Julia Ideson Building used to be the main downtown library; now, it houses the Houston Metropolitan Research collection. And they’re expanding it to hold more stuff–while preserving the lovely architectural style.

Oh–check the Internet! You might have neighbors who’ve already done some research. Beside your town name, try some local historical event (Civil War Battle, disaster, etc.) as the search term.

My suggested order of places to go:
(1) Local museum, if there is one. It might be a historic house or other building open to the public. Check in the gift shop to see if there are any books about the local history.
(2) Local library, or the main public library covering the region/city if the local library doesn’t have much in the way of local history resources. Ask them if there are any books or good journal articles about local history.
(3) The local tourist or visitor information centre. They often have books or pamphlets (free or for sale) about local history. In addition, they probably will have some good suggestions for where to go.
(4) The city hall, or county courthouse, or whatever is the equivalent seat of local government. The people there often will be able to suggest sources of information.
(5) The library at the college or university in the town might have useful resources, if it’s open to the public (not all are).

For my home town:

1.) Library had a typescript history of the town (unpublished), as well as several published histories (pretty brief)

2.) Local Historical socities

3.) Local College history department

4.) State histories – check state library

5.) Internet. There are things now on the internet that haven’t been published in paper form and are, to the best of my knowledge (meaning that I’ve researched the facts myself) accurate. As with many things, Wikipedia is not a bad place to start. Also check the official town website.

I checked my town’s website, nothing. I checked local books, none of them mentioned my town. The next step is going to the history museum and the county library and the city hall.

My town is only about 25 years old, so I don’t know if this effect things. But, there are some houses that are old as hell, so there were at least some people living here back in the day. I supposed there has to be history somewhere.

You can also check and see if your town or region has some kind of historical society. They should be able to point you in the right direction, at least.

Check with your state archives to see if anyone has written a history of the county in which you live. There were several for mine. The most recent was very detailed.

I located a copy at a used book store. The owner wanted $75 for it and I couldn’t afford it at the time. I had just paid $50 for an autographed baseball and since the bookstore owner also sold autographs, he was happy to take my Mickey Mantle in trade. Both of us were happy.

I was surprised at how complete the wiki entry on my (relatively nondescript) hometown was. It also contained a bunch of references which gave me a good headstart on the rest of my research.

Sounds obvious, but worth a look.

This can be a problem, because people often don’t think of more recent events as history.

In my community, I’m “Mr. History Person,” and I find that the things that happened fifty years ago are harder to research than the things that happened 200 years ago. Prior historians have not already gathered the facts together and packaged them in a handy to read form. It takes a lot more reading through newspaper archives and public records.

Most public documents about your governmental history should be in your town hall. But further back, before your town was incorporated, it was part of an earlier entity–a section of another town/city, a territory within your county, etc. That political division will have its records stored someplace, too.

Genealogical records about the people living within your area can be found in the local and/or county bureaus and in church and cemetery records. In many cases, genealogical records can be found online. You’re lucky, too, if your area was home to well studied groups like the Pilgrims, Revolutionary or Civil War soldiers, certain ethnic and religious groups. There’s a wealth of info about those groups that will have already been collected by others.

Local businesses have their own histories, too. “Sawing lumber since 1867.” “Family run for six generations.” Lots of business websites list stories of their founders and their growth through the years.

Newspaper archives tell about the day to day things that went on, and the advertisements offer clues about the local businesses and industries.

Historians take what they can find about all these subjects–the residents, the government, the churches, the civic and cultural activities, the businesses–and build the “who, what, when, where.” from that.

Searching is half the fun. Good luck.

Do a good deed and visit an old folks home. Ask the nurses about the chattiest person who has lived the longest in your town, and approach them, making it clear that you are not trying to scam them into anything. They will probably enjoy themselves telling you stuff. They might even have old photographs. Who knows, with their stuff, start your towns own wikipedia article, like LSLGuy mentioned.

The best place is a newspaper archive if your town has one.

Be real careful of online archives as they are not as searchable as they lead you to believe.

For instance the Chicago Tribune has a great searchable index but I have known things were in there and they don’t come up in a search. So if I go into the main library and look through the microfilms day by day I can find it there.

So even though the Tribune claims it’s indexed the entire paper, the search isn’t 100% reliable. You often have to go day by day though microfilms and look.

One good way to do this if you’re having no luck, is to start a website. 1and1 and GoDaddy offer very affordable options.

Then just set up a very simple website and ask people to mail you their stories and rememberances of the town. Put up flyers on poles and at supermarkets with the website address and have people come to YOU.

Most small town newspapers have bound editions of all their past editions, available to the public. Arrange to flip through it. Focus on the front pages first, and if something catches your eye, check it out in depth. Your library might have a microfiche collection to make this search easier.

Would you mind telling us where you live, in the most general terms? I don’t want to compromise your privacy, but there’s a very good likelihood someone on these boards spent some time there and can steer you towards some juicy scandal in your town’s past.

Many communities have “official historians” who are generally amateurs interested in local history, and will often have a wealth of information about “what things were like back in the day.”