How do I get started researching local history?
Many villages and parishes may already be described in a local history book, especially if there has been an active history society in the local area. Some of these focus on certain themes, such as World War II, the Civil War, and some are more general and do a history of a village or parish from Roman times or earlier up to the present day, sometimes with comments from current inhabitants included. The latter was a relatively common production for the millennium. Often the only book on local history is a compilation of old photographs. These are very attractive and interesting but may leave scope to do a formal written history.
You may find that by contacting your parish council that they will know about or have copies of these local histories. If this is the case, it is better to avoid duplication of effort, unless you believe the history needs updating, perhaps the book was written in the 1970s since when interpretations of history have moved on. Alternatively, if the history is very good and up-to-date, perhaps it would be best to go into one period or theme in more detail.
The Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies has a guide of how to get started in local history studies on their website.
People to consult
Often your parish council or local history group will either have or be able to tell you where primary sources for your local area are kept. There is a directory of Parish Clerks on the Buckinghamshire County Council website: www.buckscc.gov.uk/parishes_database/listclerk.asp. The Parish Clerk should also be able to tell you if there is a local historical or archaeological society who may hold collections of information or have published books.
Private individuals can also keep archives and it is wise to remember that not everything will be in the County Record Office. Some evidence will also be in people’s heads and you will have to interview them to get at it. There is advice on interview techniques and ethics on the Oral History website: www.oralhistory.org.uk.
Books to start with
A good place to start researching a parish or village history is the Victoria County History. There are four volumes for Buckinghamshire. The information is presented by parish and period, so it is a good idea to make sure that there isn’t anything in other volumes on your search area. The Victoria County History has transcripts of Domesday entries and medieval documents, which is useful as the originals are often inaccessible and difficult to read and translate. There are other sources listed in the gazetteer and more guidelines on the Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies website. The Unlocking Buckinghamshire’s Past website has a general record for your parish (the Civil Parishes of 1974) with a bibliography of sources relating to it.
John Morris (ed) 'Domesday Book – Buckinghamshire' (1978), is a transcript of the sections of the Domesday Book concerning Buckinghamshire. The Domesday Book was compiled in 1086 for William the Conqueror so that he knew who owned what land and where and how much it was worth. It is a good source for working out whether your village was around at the time, how many manors it was split into and who had owned those manors before and after the Norman Conquest. It also has details of the tenants and their livestock as well as marking how much land was arable and how much common. Click to see a list of some other useful books on Buckinghamshire.
What is not done so often in a history book is to include archaeological information. Although archaeological data is more difficult to interpret, it is still a useful addition to the written documents. For one thing it can tell you about periods before written documents were common, basically any time before the Tudor period. It is also useful for later periods, especially if there were houses or other structures that have since disappeared that can only be found using archaeological techniques.
The Unlocking Buckinghamshire Past website will also be a good start. You can search by Civil Parish, which are the parish boundaries as defined in 1974 rather than old ecclesiastical parish boundaries, and a general record for each parish should come up. The bibliography for that record will have a number of useful sources for you to consult.
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