If you didn’t know it already May is the national local and community history month. The purpose is to promote history in general and to encourage people to delve into their local history in more detail. You may think you know everything there is to know about your village, town, or city in Devon, but you may also be surprised to find out about royal visits, famous residents, origins of street names, or that your house was the site for a memorable event! You may even unearth some amazing photos and records that bring the past to life and add a new layer and meaning to the everyday things, places, and buildings you pass regularly.
So, what can you do, and how can you research your local & community history? The first thing is to do is think carefully and outline what it is you want to find out then keep a record of it as you go. Below we’ve created some main areas and resources you can use:
- Be curious and sharpen your observation skills– this might seem obvious, but this can be an important element that’s often overlooked. Walk around your local village, town or city and pay close attention to street names, old signs, plaques, monuments, and old buildings. Make a note of them, take pictures, and ask people in your local community. Most modern phones have a built in digital camera, if you have an android or Apple smartphone some of these can capture some amazing images. Use them to help you refer back to at a later date, to upload to online repositors or share with other people who may be able to help your research and identify the things of interest you’ve found.
How to use your iPhone camera – click here
How to use your Samsung camera – click here
How to use your android camera – click here
- Map out the town–using historical maps of your town or city can help paint a picture of what it used to look like and where some of the most prominent buildings once stood or events may have taken place.They can revel what the land or building was used for and who owned it. Many county archives have digitised their Tithe maps (what is a tithe map?) and there are quite a few online resources you can use, some free, some paid for.
The popular TV series and magazine ‘Who do you think you are’ has a website with some great links and information on the best online historical map services currently available, check it out using this link.
- Check outyour locallibrary and museum, if you have one – Libraries can be an amazing resource for all things local. From books, maps, and microfilm, to printed promotional items, and photos. For example, Exeter library has a vast collection of posters, magazines, leaflets, correspondence, meeting minutes, placards, banners, and press releases. Check them out here
Whilst many of the records are available online via the library’s website not everything is digital yet or likely to be in the future but that doesn’t mean you can’t access them with a visit in person. Their online database will usually categorise and index the documents, so you know it exists and what sort of information it contains. Some libraries will even run regular family & local history courses/sessions. They can help with research and there’s lots of knowledgeable staff ready and waiting to help.
- Dig through court records–Using local or county court records such as deeds, wills, property/land disputes, civil complaints, even the layout of roads and rights of way can all help you learn more about the people and place you’re researching and can be a rich source of local history. Check out the National Archives Courts of Law records here.
- Read historical newspapersand published local histories– These can cover the lives of local residents and major events in the history of your town. Public announcements, adverts, obituaries, and marriages. They can even detail what your local community ran for annual events and gatherings, what they wore and what was popular in terms of fashion, food, and music.
Check out a great online resource at www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk
- Speak to people–either in person or online. speak with members of your local community, library, museum, and church staff who can all be a great resource. There are lots of local history societies across the UK. Many of which have their own websites with tons of helpful information, contact details for some of the members or an email address for the group.
They’ll often have links with other groups such as local archaeology societies and museums. During normal times they may run talks and meetings regularly that you can attend.
Using the internet & World Wide Web:
It’s never been easier to access many of the above resources via the internet and the amount of historical information is growing daily as more and more is discovered and digitized. Someone may have already travelled part of your journey and uploaded their findings, images & documents to the internet or online database that could help you.
But remember that any new source of information should be approached with an open mind. Check out this helpful guide GCF Global about the basics of using search engines: https://edu.gcfglobal.org/en/internetbasics/using-search-engines/1/
Here’s a list of some other useful online resources:
- www.local-history.co.uk One of the UK’s premier local history websites. Their aim is to help meet the needs of anyone with an interest in local history.
- www.balh.org.uk/ is a national charity which promotes local history and serves local historians
- www.historypin.org/en/ is a useful website that gives users a place to come together to share photos and stories to celebrate an area’s local history.
- www.whatwasthere.com provides a platform where anyone can easily upload a photograph with two straightforward tags to provide context: Location and Year.
- www.history.org.uk/ A UK national charity for history who support history teaching & learning at all levels.
The Positive People Project:
If you’d like any support or training in how to access some of the websites and resources in our blog, or how to use your computer in more detail then why not get in touch and ask us about our free 1:1 sessions and group workshops. We cover many different topics such as the basics of using a device, how to use a search engine, online safety, digital photography, and photo/video editing and many, many more. You can contact us on [email protected] or 0330 0883 005 (option 2). Alternatively check out our website www.positive-people.org.uk/areas/devon