Social & Place Histories

Collection Information

Social and place histories will typically contain descriptions of geographic features, transportation routes, and the economy of the area. They can also include historical information on seats of government, public institutions (e.g., prisons, schools, etc.), churches, and charitable institutions. Migration patterns are often mentioned, particularly in relation to the settlement of the area.

The names and dates you find in records create the framework for your family history, and putting what you know into the context of history can help you get to know more about your ancestors.

Even in cases where your ancestor isn't mentioned specifically, learning about local events, social conditions, and the lives of their contemporaries can fill in some of the blanks and give you a more well-rounded view and add interest to your family story.

Sample Images

Search Tips

  • Through the Card Catalog, it’s easy to see what local histories are available geographically. Use the filters to select Stories, Memories & Histories and narrow your search to that collection. Next in "Filter by Location" select a country, state, and county to see what’s available for the area.
  • When searching for a person in these collections, start with just a surname. Exploring all of the matches for your surname in a local publication can lead you to other related families in the area.
  • Once you’ve located a title of interest, use the keyword search to find topics of interest. Use search terms like crop, church, school, epidemic, drought, fire, flood, a neighborhood name, or any other topic you’re interested in learning more about.
  • Try searching the local histories for a particular year of interest. For example, the year your ancestor moved away. You may find reference to an event that precipitated his departure.
  • Browsing the book is sometimes the most effective way to find what you’re looking for. For many of the titles on, you’ll find links on the database search page directly to the table of contents, list of illustrations, individual chapters, and the index. These are often mirrored in the navigation bar of the Advanced Image Viewer. (Look in the blue bar above the navigation icons that says "Go to section.")
  • Older databases may not include the advanced navigation, but it’s still possible to read the title just as you would a book, and even where pages don’t match up exactly, you can do the math to skip ahead to sections of interest.
  • Search wide in these collections, searching for the names of friends, neighbors, and associates of your ancestor. While your ancestor may not have warranted a mention, notes on an associate could shed light on your family story.
  • Use the stories you find in these publications and locate records that support what you’ve learned. It’s not uncommon to find "embellishments" in some published family histories, local histories and biographies.