Beyond the Internet: Week 33 Local History adds value to family history

Beyond the Internet

This is Week 33 in my Beyond the Internet series in which I explore the sources of information beyond our computer screens and the topic is Local History:  Centres, Libraries and Local Histories. This is part of the Archives and Libraries section of the series.

Local History Centres/Heritage Centres

Local History centres aka Heritage Centres can be gold mines for family history research. Of course not all centres are created equal, as much depends on the resources available and the enthusiasm and expertise of the centre teams, often volunteers.  Nevertheless there are nuggets of information to be gleaned. This is where you are likely to find old newspapers (perhaps not a full run) which may not yet have made it on Trove. You may also find that there are old-timers who have personal knowledge relating to the history of the place when your family lived there. The local history group may even have indexed the burials in the local cemetery.

The story relayed by Granny Gavin cannot be accurate given the age difference between the couple but it’s interesting that’s how she told their story.

As an example, back in the late 1980s I visited the Crows Nest Folk Museum on the Darling Downs. Thanks to the hard work of their volunteers I got an obituary from a small newspaper for my 2xgreat grandfather Denis Gavin; saw a war memorial board with his grandsons’ names; and was given an oral history about Denis’s second wife. While his wife’s story of their meeting has been disproved by further research, it was nevertheless an interesting story given to a small boy many decades before. (Remember that D for discernment attribute?)

A 1987 letter from the Crows Nest Historical Society re my 2x great grandfather, Denis Gavin.

Also on the centre’s shelves is likely to be a collection of books on the local history. Especially with older publications these may have had only a small print run and may be difficult to find elsewhere. In the Gatton Historical Centre I found a small book which told of a corroboree at Murphy’s Creek in the railway-building days when my ancestors were there. So far I’ve not located any other reference to it.

Similarly there may be a collection of local photographs which are not available online or in other libraries as local families donate images to the Centre’s collection.

But it’s not just paper documentation that can be helpful with your research. Some centres have old farming implements and kitchenware, that will illuminate your family’s pioneering days, and in some cases bring memories flooding back.

There is a local history section in the adjacent building to the Waltzing Mathilda Centre in Winton.

Driving from Darwin to Brisbane and Canberra through western towns, the mushrooming of these local heritage centres is evident. Whether it’s a reflection of the boom in our interest in Australian history or a strategy to bring life back to the country towns, it’s definitely a boon to our research.  Nor is this kind of heritage centre only available in Australia: there are similar places throughout the world. You can use this link to identify Aussie centres.

Even if there’s no heritage centre for your town of interest, do search for any local histories which may have been published. They are absolutely gold. I learnt so much from the local histories of Dorfprozelten am Main in Bavaria. You can set up a Google alert to let you know when one becomes available or you just search the internet from time to time. I’ve picked up a few local histories this way, as someone clears out their bookshelves of out-of-print books.

Local Studies in Libraries

You can see from all the tags how much info I’ve got from these two books.

While I’ve mainly focused on the local heritage centre or similar, don’t forget that there may be a dedicated local history section in the regional library: definitely worth exploring for different information.  An overseas example is the local history/local studies section of the Limerick Library, Co Limerick or the East Clare Heritage magazine. You just never know where you might find what you’re looking for, or just another family clue or snippet to flesh out your story.  I found a bundle of great photos from Chinchilla Library for the family of one of my Dorfprozelten Germans.

Overseas where would I be without CLASPand the Clare County Library’s local history collections in Ennis or the discoveries we made with the assistance of the librarians in Retford, Notthinghamshire?

Blogging about Local History successes

The world is your family tree oyster with blogging. Edited image from Office Clip Art.
Sharing your discoveries on your blog.

Here are a couple of links to recent blog posts about the discoveries made from local history research. There have been others over the months but these will give you the idea.

Roots’n’Leaves: Joan talks about her family discoveries in Bentley, Alberta, Canada.

My Genealogy Adventure: Tanya talks about the Richmond District Historical Centre.

Family History 4U: Sharn writes about the value of local history and her discoveries about Seventeen Mile Rocks in Brisbane and also Pomona. Her other post about Pomona discoveries is here.

Give it a go

Hopefully these stories will give you the impetus to use local history and heritage centres in your research whether in Australia or overseas. There is just so much you might discover, and don’t forget not to focus entirely on your own family name: the experience of others living in the same place will have many overlaps.

If you have had great discoveries in heritage centres or local history libraries, why not share them in a comment or in your own blog post.

Even though I’m on the downhill slope of this 52 week series, with the remaining topics mapped out (though occasionally re-sequenced), it’s feeling like a long haul. Any cheer squad support from my geneablogger buddies would be much appreciated. I think I can, I think I can. Well I know I will, but some weeks the energy and enthusiasm wane.

9 thoughts on “Beyond the Internet: Week 33 Local History adds value to family history

  1. Thanks for the mention Pauline. Although I have quite a few to catch up on, your posts are giving me some wonderful ideas about where else to find family history information. When I finish this lot of study for the year (in about 5 weeks!) I will be spending a lot of time enjoying your posts. So please keep going! I need to know about all these other ways of finding out about my ancestors. 🙂


    1. You’re welcome Tanya, I thought your posts were great examples of the usefulness of local history. I know what you mean about blog-reading…I’ve been chasing my tail since being in Brisbane in May. Don’t know where the hours and days go.


  2. Greetings! I would like to email/correspond with you directly and make comments.-your family line is very similar to mine – England (Kent), Ireland (county Clare and others ..some convicts – but not all :)..,and have researched and found both lines of our Danish – though one would now be considered today German (due to wars of abt 1864).My family and I are from Australia, mainly from NSW, I spent my last 5yrs in Darwin – then married and moved to the USA, where Iam today – now in Florida (FL, USA).We have a number of coincidences, in various locations and family locations – though no lines of family locations/lines relating to you.I would like to email you, but could not find your email address at yr website. Though do understand you may not have it listed anyway.I do understand you are very busy and with genealogy, various blogs. I hope to hear from you, With warm regards Ghita Date: Sat, 18 Aug 2012 00:01:55 +0000 To:


    1. hi Ghita, you are right, I don’t have my email on the blog though I’ve been reconsidering that. I will get in touch via email. The benefit of commenting via the blog is that others get to share and there have been a few cousins who’ve connected in this way. Minor correction – my English family had the surname Kent but came from Hertfordshire. Cheers Pauleen


  3. Keep going Pauline – you have taught me so much and given me so many new lines of enquiry! It’s brilliant what you are doing for us all!


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