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What are Local Histories and Biographies?

During the nineteenth century in the United States, a new kind of publication evolved: the county history. While local histories had existed before, notably in England, the new American style was much different. These books are much better sources of information on individuals, in part because American counties were so much younger than their English counterparts.

County histories are traditionally large volumes which detail the events that have occurred within a county, and the people who played a part. These histories detail the early settlements within a county, including who held which office, who founded various towns, when different churches were started, and other worthy information.

BookIn addition, most of the histories published between 1870 and 1920 included a lengthy section with biographical sketches of many of the county's families. Sometimes more than half of the 1,000 or more pages in a volume include these biographical sketches.

In the United States, they are definitely a product of the post-Civil War era. Before 1850, only 22 such histories had been published, and by 1870, only 96 had appeared. However, in the next 30 years, at least 1,166 county histories were published. Their popularity continued on into the twentieth century, as a similar number were published between 1900 and 1929.

Until about 1920, almost all of these histories pertained to the northern and western states, with the largest concentration in those states bordering on the Great Lakes (often called the Midwest). For researchers of immigrants, this is a tremendous benefit. It is in these northern states where the majority of nineteenth century immigrants settled.

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