Discovering Local Histories: Hidden Gems for Genealogy Researchers

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By Carlos B. Crockett, Reference Department Terrebonne Parish Library

In genealogy, knowing the precise location of where your ancestors lived can offer tremendous advantages in finding records about them. This is why researchers should include local historical societies as a resource. They’re often depositories for biographical information about your ancestors, the county or town, and local history. Many of the local history organizations have books on the area’s history that outline names of prominent families, religious communities, as well as information on ethnic groups of the area. They describe the development of agriculture, industry, and transportation in the community. They also have books written by local authors describing the histories of the local churches, schools, and cemeteries. 

Traditionally, local history records were not easy to find and frequently were not indexed; however, many of these records are now being digitized and made easily accessible for the public to view. Here is what these histories can hold and where you can discover them.  

Spotlight Local Histories

Local historical societies along with town and county historical organizations were most popular and accessible in the late 1800s and early 1900s when organizations regularly printed articles about an area’s momentous anniversary like a bicentennial. Often time they would describe an area’s founding and development, significant events, native or settled ethnic groups, as well as information on schools, social clubs, local businesses, and newspapers. 

If your relative was a prominent person in the community or was one of the earlier settlers, they’re more likely to be included in local history. For example, here in Terrebonne Parish, one of the more-written about figures in the parish’s history is Robert Ruffin Barrow (1798-1875). He was one of the largest landowners and slave owners in the south before the Civil War. He owned several hundred slaves and six plantations in Terrebonne Parish: Residence, Caillou Grove, Honduras, Myrtle Grove, Crescent Farm, and Point Farm. He supported the Confederacy and made investments to finance a submarine for the Confederate States Navy. He also made several land donations to both white and black recipients. One of his donations was for land and material for the Little Zion Baptist Church in Houma, one of the oldest black churches in Terrebonne Parish. 

One of the quickest ways to get a name and find a multitude of sources is doing a simple google search. Google Books contains the largest online book collection and has web pages and other digitized sources indexed. When searching for a book of your ancestors, includenot only your ancestor’s surname but the location they lived and the word history” for the best results. For example, I did a google book search with the keywords, “Trahan, Terrebonne Parish, local history” and got the following information: 

HathiTrust Digital Library’s site is similar to Google Books and you can search by selecting the Full-Text option to get more comprehensive results.

Accessible Archives has county histories as well as old newspapers and journals available for free, but more can be accessed by paid subscription.

There are many county and local histories on the mega genealogy site Ancestry, a serviceavailable to patrons at our libraries for free if you follow our link on a library computer or other device connected to the library’s wifi.

In addition to the free historical records and family trees at FamilySearch, you can also search tens of thousands of family history publications including books, periodicals, gazetteers, and other printed histories. 

HeritageQuest is owned by Ancestry and be accessed through our subscription. It has 28,000 household and local history books. You can use our link and set up an account for free. 

Although there is a growing number of online Local Histories, many aren’t digitized, particularly those published in 1927 or later. Many of them are not in the public domain. These books can be accessed in local libraries and archives. Search on Worldcat, a site that lists the collections of more than 10,000 libraries worldwide, to see if the books you need can be shipped to your prefered branch of the Terrebonne Parish Library system. 

If researching local family members, you can look into the Terrebonne Genealogical Society, The Finding Your Roots Museum, and the United Houma Nation’s website at for a glimpse into the cultural heritage of the area and the people who made contributions to the development of the county and town. 

If you need further information, please feel free to visit the Terrebonne Parish Main Library where our friendly staff can provide more assistance.