In this blog post I’d like to share with you one of my absolute favourite genealogical resources: the prairie local history book. I’ll take you through a step by step process for finding your ancestors, their locations, determining the right keywords, and then searching three great sites for local history gold.
What is a local history book and why should I look for one?
There are many styles of local histories. The ones I’m suggesting for genealogy are compilations of stories which are written by, for, and about locals in a small commmunity. The organizers are often associated with a church or historical society, and the books generally commemorate an event such as a centennial.
A local history may have the following:
- A Table of Contents and several indices listing the names of the familiies
- A map and listings of homesteads and their owners
- A history of the small towns in the area, including the general store, the postmaster cum commissioner, and the land office
- A section on the locals who served in military conflicts
- Alphabetical biographies with photos of the area’s families, from the progenitor down to all known decendants, even those still living
- First person accounts of life in the area
As you can see, a local history book can go a long way in filling in the gaps left by birth, marriage and death records.
Who can I find in a local history book?
A local history book may have your ancestor’s biography. If you are very lucky, the book will have your ancestors and their descendants. In addition, the book will have the people your ancestor knew: their friends, acquaintances and neighbours (FAN) from their postmistress to the farrier.
Where can I find my ancestor’s local history book?
First you’ll need to know where they lived, then some keywords to search. Here are some suggestions for finding those keywords using publicly available census data.
I recommend that before you look for a local history book, you first try to track down every posssible census for them.
Example #1 – the 1926 census
From the Districts and subdistricts section of the 1926 census, we find:
- Municipality – Elton
- District 1 – Brandon
- Subdistrict 33 – Townships 11 and 12 in range 19, west of principal meridian. Forrest
Keywords: Elton, Brandon, Forrest, “George Chapman”
Example #2 – the 1921 census
By looking up this information in the District and subdistricts section of the 1921 census for Manitoba, we can find:
- Municipality – Victoria
- District 29 – MacDonald
- Subdistrict 23 – Township 7 in range 11 and sections 3 to 10, 15 to 22, 28 to 33 and the west halves of sections 27 and 34 in township 7, range 10, lying within the Municipality of Victoria, west of principal meridian
Since “Victoria” and “MacDonald” are common names, we would also like to know the local towns in the area. From Manitoba AgriMaps we can see the local towns are Holland, Treherne, Lorne, Bruxelles, Rathwell, and Notre Dame de Lourdes.
Keywords: Victoria, MacDonald, Holland, Treherne, Lorne, Bruxelles, Rathwell, Notre Dame de Lourdes, “Alfred Gates”
Example #3 – the 1916 census
From the Districts and subdistricts section of LAC for 1916, we can also find:
- District 17 – Battleford
- Subdistrict 10 – Townships 39, 40, 41 and 42, ranges 27 and 28, west of the third meridian, including the town of Macklin
Keywords: Senlac, Battleford, Macklin, “FJ Tipton”
Where can I find local histories?
Local histories online
This is a national collection of digitized, full text local histories, with the participation of dozens of libraries and organizations from British Columbia to Newfoundland and Labrador. As of this writing, there are hundreds of materials each for Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
For example, I tried looking for “Alfred Gates” of Victoria, MacDonald, MB as seen in Example #2 above. I entered “Treherne,” as an unusual name more likely to bring up the right town.
The first result, Tiger Hills to the Assiniboine, is a local history book. Choosing it and using the “search inside” feature, I find a Dan Gates and his brother Alfred Gates.
The publicly available digital collection at the University of Manitoba has a large collection of mainly Manitoba-based local histories.
For example, I tried looking for George Chapman from our 1926 census in Example #1, above. I entered “George Chapman” + Elton in the search engine.
Here’s the result. I found a George Chapman in “A history of Elton Municipality.”
The University of Alberta’s excellent site. To find a local history, go to “Seach Peel Bibliography” at the link, enter “Local history” in the Subject heading, and a keyword in the title. For example, I looked for “FJ Tipton” from “Macklin” in example #3 above.
In The history of Macklin and community on the occasion of Saskatchewan’s Golden Jubilee Year 1955, I found an “FJ Tipton” in Senlac who served as Reeve.
As of 3 Aug 2019, the Archives’ search, called Threshold, is unavailable.
Next week: Using FamilySearch and Facebook to find local histories
In next week’s post, I’ll share with you another way to find local histories by using a combination of Family Search, WorldCat, and Facebook.
I’ve been meaning to write a blog about prairie local histories for months, ever since seeing the extensive collection at the Family History Room in the Frances Morrison Library in Saskatoon. There, the shelves are lined with local histories for hundreds of places in Saskatchewan. The collection is a rich resource, but only for people who can visit in person. What if you don’t live in Saskatoon and can’t easily travel here?
This past week, I worked out how to navigate the various databases available in order to find local history information online and for free. To test my methods, I chose all three examples – George Chapman, Alfred Gates, and FJ Tipton – at random with the goal of finding at least one local history result for each that was likely to be a relevant hit. I had no idea if this was doable and I’m quite surprised by the successful results.
Example #2, Alfred Gates, was the hardest one to find, which is why it has the extra piece of looking for unusual names of towns around the Gates farm.
What do you think? Please let me know in the comments.