Discovering Local History
When one thinks of history, thoughts of places like Philadelphia, Boston, London, or Rome come to mind. Each of these areas have full of history that could take you years to fully explore. Yet sadly, history that is right in your own backyard gets ignored. Your local history can be very colorful and part of the larger picture and you don’t even know. You need to discover your local history. It is rich in stories and places to explore. Readers and writers alike can discover so much.
Where do You Start?
It is funny how hard it is to know where history is in your own hometown. You grow up so used to it that you never think about it much less notice it. In fact, you have no idea where to start. It's just...home. Well, it’s easy as can be. Start with your local Chamber of Commerce and your local library.
Chamber of Commerce
Most towns have a Chamber of Commerce, no matter how small the town may be. They have the pulse of all businesses in town. That includes nonprofit organizations and material for visitors and people new to the community. They will have maps, tourist guides, and even information on where to find more historical information. They make a great starting point in your history explorations.
Always ask the person manning the desk recommendations to discover the area's history. If they don't know, they'll know someone who does. If they don't, they need a new person manning the desk.
This probably is your best bet to finding out local history. They will have books, pamphlets, newspapers, and so much more. The local librarian will be able to tell you places to visit off the beaten path that you will find so interesting. You might even be shocked at how colorful your local history really is. If the librarian is really knowledgeable, he/she might be able to direct you to local historians who can help you out even more.
Most bookstores have a section for local material and local authors. Check this out and find information about historical sites and people in your area. I live in Milwaukee. At any store, including the local Barnes and Noble, I can find a section just on the city and surrounding areas. There are stories on the local bars, history of the local mafia, and even nature trail information. If you can't find this section in the store, ask someone.
I know this sounds morbid, but you can discover some great local history just by visiting local cemeteries. I went to a really old cemetery outside of the town I was born in. There I discovered some really cool information about my home that I had no clue about. Some cemeteries might have guidebooks. Walk through the graves and read the headstones. You'll be amazed and what you might find.
Make an Adventure Out of It
When it comes to discovering local history, make an adventure out of it. Turn it into a scavenger hunt or a picnic. You can even kill two birds with one stone and research your genealogy while you are doing it.
Pretend you are tourists for the day. See how visitors see your hometown. If you live in a big city, you have probably thousands of things to see that you never even knew was there. If you live in a small town, you pass by historical markers that you never read.
Find the local ghosts. With all these tales come local history. It might be the most fun your family has all year. Make it a regular event and move further out from home. You’ll discover amazing cemeteries, historical homes, tales of ghosts and mischief, and stand where famous people once stood.
I lived near the place where the Second Great Awakening began and never knew it. I was born there and visited many times. Never did my mother tell me that the cemetery we visited was where the meeting house was located. I was studying the history in my own backyard and didn’t know it.
Take a camera and/or video recorder with you as you learn the history of your hometown. For one thing, you'll find some really cool and unusual stuff. Document it. Your children could use it for a school project. You might find material for articles and blog posts. Or even just for a scrapbook.
Explore your hometown and find local history that is amazing and exciting. For readers, you’ll find new authors and subjects to explore. There might even be a section the library and the local bookstore reserved for local history and local authors. For writers, the same thing can be beneficial to you as well as the history itself. You might find inspiration for a mystery, romance, or children’s book in the most unlikely places. Give it a try and maybe write a short story from every place you visit. It will be fun!