Town Histories as a Resource


Cannot find your great grandfather in the town in Ohio that you are sure that he lived in???

Looking at where the family came from in the “old country”? How about right here in Chautauqua County or western New York? Or perhaps you have found him but little beyond vital records. Where can you turn to find more information? Town histories are an excellent source to use when filling in context on your family. You may not actually find that specific person in the Town History, but you will find a great deal of information on where he or she came from. This can give you a clearer picture of what their life may have been like. You may also find names of their FAN club, Family, Associates and Neighbors. This can then lead you to other records.

Where should you look to find these histories? Many small towns produce histories on certain significant anniversaries. For local history, try looking at the small local libraries or historical societies. The Fenton History Center has many town histories from the Chautauqua area. They also have Town Histories for New England. I tell you this because you may have already discovered that your family migrated west from Massachusetts, Connecticut, or Rhode Island. On the way, they may have stopped for a few years or a generation in New Hampshire, Vermont, or eastern New York. Locating town histories of the area that they lived in might add great details to their story.

You can locate town histories on Family Search, American Ancestors, PERSI, and by simply googling the name of the town. I was able to obtain a history of Newtownards, Ireland by googling it. I found not a single mention of any ancestors from there; but what I did find was priceless. In addition to learning about the founding of the town and its growth over time, I learned two key pieces of information about the town and the area surrounding it. It seems that over time there had been Tin mines in the area. This helped to sort out a family legend that my GG grandfather had worked in a Silver mine. After doing a bit of additional research on Tin mining, I discovered that Silver is often found in Tin mines thus lending credence to the story. I also found out about the relatively steady travel back and forth across the Irish Sea to Scotland, helping me to understand why my Great Great Grandfather migrated from County Down in Ireland to Lanarkshire, Scotland in the early 1860s.

On the Family Search site, I used the search function, entering the keyword Town Histories and obtained 14,331 results. There are dozens of filters available on the left side of the page such as years (going back to 1000), categories such as military, and the languages that they are published in that will allow you to narrow the results down to a manageable number. There is also a sub-list of those available on-line. Using World Cat, you can locate the closest library to you that may have a copy. Also, many libraries have interlibrary loan.

The PERSI site lists 13,758 results. I am not as familiar with using this site, but you can access it through the Family Search and the Find My Past Sites. The Family Search wiki had a learning program that will assist you in looking for articles etc. that may help you to learn about the towns that your ancestors may have lived in. This is the link to the wiki site.

Hopefully, you will try using Town Histories and it will open new windows into your family’s past.

To read Janet Walberg’s previous genealogy columns or to delve deeper into her writings and insights for searching out and recording your own family’s genealogy, please go to and visit Janet’s own web page.