"Geddington As It Was - The Social History of a Rural Community" by Monica Rayne, "A History of Great Oakley in Northamptonshire" by Peter Hill, "Blue Water Reflections: A Pictorial History of Port Huron and the St. Clair River District" by Mary C. Burnell & Amy Marcaccio, and "East Gwillimbury in the 19th Century" by Gladys M. Rolling.
These are just a few of the 'local' history books of my ancestral towns and villages that I have collected over the years. Yes, I "do" genealogy, that is, I research my family history.
And why are you not surprised at this?
In my, ahem, humble opinion, researching the names and the dates of our ancestors is only half the fun. The other half is discovering and learning about the cities, towns, and villages from whence they came.
And the way they lived.
I'd like to give you an example, if I may: my 2nd great grandmother, Linnie Raby (her maiden name), was born in the Village of Geddington, Northamptonshire, England in 1858. Her father was born in an even smaller hamlet known as Great Oakley on New Years Day in 1822.
There are many history books available giving the generalities of the way folks, both rural and city, lived in England in the mid-19th century. Much of it seems to be 'based' on the works of Charles Dickens, although a few, such as "Victorian People" by Gillian Avery, are exceptional in the giving of details of everyday life, including manners of speech and accents in the different regions of England. However, books such as this are the exception rather than the rule.
So what does one do to try to put flesh and blood on the bones of those long-gone ancestors?
I phoned (yes, phoned - ten minutes to England only cost a couple bucks) the Records Office of Northamptonshire (yes, it helps to at least know the county in which your ancestors were born) to ask if they had any local historical information about their region, hoping they would have, at best, a regional history that could help me in my endeavors.
"We can do better than that!" said Rachel, the young British women. "We have local history books by village. Which were you interested in?"
I told her Geddington, hence, the "Geddington As It Was..." book.
Unfortunately, I couldn't purchase it from her, but she did hook me up with a retailer that could sell me a copy. I phoned them, they had it, and I bought it over the phone (at a rather steep price, I must say. They really get you on the shipping!). It was delivered to my door a scant three weeks later.
What a wealth of social history this book was! It vividly describe the town and many of its inhabitants. For instance: (Ch. 6 - Village Services) The original Post Office was situated in Bridge Street and the postmastership was in the same family's hands for nearly 50 years. Before its opening around 1862 when Humphery Panter was appointed sub-postmaster, letters had been sent out from Kettering to an official letter receiver. In 1849 this was Charlotte Smith, and in 1861 Isaac Smith.
Three sentences. But, in these three sentences I now know how my great great great grandparents and their family received their mail. And, names were mentioned that I'm sure they associated with!
How about this: It is the Forge by the Cross, however, that is remembered by many villagers as a focal point in Geddington. Children paused on their way to and from school, horses patiently awaited their turn, and the smell of the fire and the singeing hoof pervaded the centre of the village, while the sound of the hammer on the anvil could be heard all around.
Doesn't this add colorization to the mental picture of their lives?
And, to top it off, there is even a map of the roads/streets at the time of my ancestors' existence there! So now I could see where great great grandmother lived, walked, went to school...and, yes, she had to walk right past the Forge!!
How cool is that?
And this is just but one of my 'ancestral town' history books. I have sought out and purchased as many as I could find. Some are little more than photographs, which is still ok - now I can visualize what my ancestors saw. Others give names and occupations as well as important events that occurred in the village.
Honestly, I cannot stress enough just how important these books are to your heritage. If you are the family historian then you owe it to yourself, to your family, and to your ancestors to make the past - your ancestral past - come to life. If, for nothing else, than to honor your ancestors.