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18 September 2014
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Local History: Top Tips

By Dr Alan Crosby
Meet other people

Image of the Thriplow Landscape Research Group
The Thriplow Landscape Research Group 
In any research it is good to exchange ideas and information with other people, and to keep track of what's going on in the world of local history. Join your local history society (the library should have details of any societies in your area) and go to its meetings.

See what other people are doing, hear the lectures in which other local historians present the results of their investigations, and buy the publications of the society (they always need the funds!). Consider joining the British Association for Local History (see Go further for details) or your county local history federation or society.

'You don't have to be a professional historian to use a record office ...'

Consider enrolling for a local history course, which will give you a more formal and more systematic grounding in the whys and wherefores. Investigate what courses are available in your area through university continuing education or lifelong learning departments; the Workers Educational Association [WEA]; local authority evening classes; and adult colleges. (For further details see Go further.)

Getting under way

When you have found out about the background and have a good idea of what it is you want to investigate, start looking for the primary sources and begin finding new information for yourself. Use the county record office or local archives. The record office is the place where the raw material of your quest, the manuscripts and documents, will be found.

Most record offices also have excellent collections of Ordnance Survey and other maps. The archives in the record offices are there for you to use: even if you have never looked at a historic document before, you can see for yourself what they are like. You don't have to be a professional historian to use a record office - in fact, most users of most record offices are amateurs.

Every record office is different, but don't be daunted by what at first visit will seem a terrifyingly unfamiliar place. Ask the staff for help, explain what you want, take some time to familiarise yourself with any guides, hand lists and other introductions to the collections, and don't worry if you don't understand at first - nobody ever did on their first visit to a record office! You will be in good company.

Published: 2005-03-03

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