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How to Research Local History by Pamela Brooks

Find out all about your house, village or town, the subtitle of this book announces. In my view, it tells you much more than that. For any historian, and not just in the field of purely local studies, this volume is probably as near to indispensable as they come.

How to Research Local History by Pamela Brooks

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Category: Reference
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: John Van der Kiste
Reviewed by John Van der Kiste
Summary: Although aimed primarily at the local history researcher, as a work of reference it succeeds in doubling as an indispensable handbook for historians on a far wider scale than the purely local field.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 226 Date: March 2008
Publisher: How To Books Ltd
ISBN: 978-1845282769

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The introduction looks in detail, and very readably, at the definitions of primary evidence, with reference to the Domesday Book, and secondary evidence, including the standard county histories, and which texts are available on CD-Rom. Physical and oral evidence are also examined, plus a warning from the author that you can easily spend more time than you had anticipated among record sources, to the extent where you will easily lose track of time, especially if the family agree to meet you at a certain hour beforehand. She and I have been there, done that many a time…

One of the joys of these books is that they give a certain amount of information which at first glance may be stating the obvious, yet in up-to-date detail that makes the reminder a valuable one. Chapter 2, on 'Preparing to research', is packed with useful tips on the minutiae of keeping records (whether using a ring binder, card index, computer, or a combination of all three), working with and interpreting documents, and the issue of copyright.

As someone whose research often focuses on biographical data, I found the chapter on 'Finding a Person' particularly engrossing. Such aspects as using criminal and court records, electoral registers, and standard reference works including Who's Who, Who Was Who, Kelly's Handbook and Whitaker's Almanac are dealt with. Another on 'Finding out a building' looks at conservation records, title deeds, building control plans and planning applications, and not only their importance, but also how and where to access them. Further chapters deal with looking at street directories, using maps, census returns, searching for resources (particularly film and sound archives), and looking at local newspaper archives.

Appendices list useful websites for local history and useful reference works. Other useful features here and there include a table of Roman numerals, and of money before 1971, going back not only to florins and halfcrowns but even the groats and nobles of medieval days.

In the age of the internet, it's sometimes questionable as to whether some works of reference are quite as valuable, particularly to those of us online, as they were ten years ago. Nevertheless, as far as this book is concerned, one would have to trawl many many websites to gather all this information. In its field, I think it would be extremely hard to surpass.

Our thanks to How to Books for sending a copy to Bookbag.

For a useful example of a local history publication, why not try Shadows Of The Workhouse: The Drama Of Life In Postwar London by Jennifer Worth

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