Finding out about the history of your town, be it where you live, where you were born, or where your ancestors were from, can be just as interesting and full of surprises as any family history search. Even if you've lived in a place your whole life, digging into its history can be a rewarding research journey.
This short video aims to give you some starting points for researching the history of your town or local area.
Hello, my name is Sam and I'm a reference librarian at the National Library of Australia.
I and the National Library of Australia would like to acknowledge Australia's First Nations people, the First Australians, as the traditional owners and custodians of the land and give respect to the elders, past and present and through them to all Australian, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
The National Library of Australia is your library and it's our role to collect, preserve and provide resources relating to Australia, its people, its histories and its cultures. As part of this rich collection of people and stories. We hold documentary records featuring information about towns and places throughout the country. This doesn't just mean books. It also includes photographs, artworks, posters, ephemera and oral histories. In addition to the collection, we've created useful research guides, instructional videos and other helpful ways you can get started. Our research librarians here at the National Library have kindly put their heads together and come up with a list of tips along with their favourite resources and research avenues for researching towns and locations which they've shared.
So where to begin? As with any research, it's important to have a plan or parameters around what you're looking for. History of your town is a broad topic, so think about what type of local history you're after. Maybe you want to find out who the traditional owners of the land are and how they lived, or how things changed with the arrival of settlers and the growth of the town to where it is today. Or perhaps you're researching the story of a location whose fortunes have changed over time, like the town of Piggeroeet in Victoria. From its metropolitan highs in the 1880s, when it had three churches, five hotels, a post office, library and a school to today where little remains but foundations of structures, abandoned mineshafts and some relics from the Second World War.
Chronological history can be a huge piece of research, and it would be useful to consider how detailed you'll be in your research.
Thematic. Did your town have gold fever? Gold drew thousands to Australia in the early colonial period. Many towns were built on the riches pulled up from the ground. Some declined, while others boomed. Keeping to a theme while researching can help guide you in your choices. In the example of gold mining, you can expand from pure history resources to bringing in industry or commercial publications that refer to your town or areas involvement in the industry.
Collection of Essays. Are you aiming to bring together a range of research by other people to create a single point of reference for others? You could theme these collections around a specific person, event, or place point in time.
Are you just looking to explore a particular event or moment in time that was significant to your town? A centenary, a sporting coup, or perhaps a particular building? This can be easy to contain, but also difficult to complete as the number of resources to draw from may be limited.
Of course, these are just a few suggestions and you're more than likely to end up with a combination of parameters. However, what's important is that you have a plan and some guides to help you decide where to go next.
Now you have a plan, it's time to find some resources. First up, we'll have a look at how to find resources on our catalogue. Using the search bar, you can enter the name of the town or place you're looking for. Depending on the town or location, the results return may be different. If we search for Melbourne, we get over 250,000 results. Undoubtedly there are some research gems in there, but it will take you some time to sift through them.
You can narrow your search with the dropdown fields to the right. Again, let's use Melbourne as a search example. But instead of using “all fields”, select “subject” and type “Melbourne History”. You'll see there are a fewer results, but the results that are returned are specifically focused on Melbourne's history.
Again, use the narrow search options to hone in on the results you're after. Of course Melbourne will have many results. However, depending on the size and even age of town, you’re after, results will vary. If you have time though, you can always sift through the all fields results.
I also encourage you to draw on the rich resources available on Trove for an in-depth look at Trove and its functions watch our “Getting started with Trove” instructional webinar using the link in the description below.
Speaking of instructional webinars, we produce webinars and discovery videos like this one to help you get the most out of your national library. Topics cover a range of themes and collection areas, including local histories. You can find a list of webinars on our website or our YouTube channel - you'll find the links below. This one from two of our reference librarians, Damien and Amy, is useful to anyone diving into local history. You'll also find webinars on family history, Trove research skills and some interesting collections in highlight.
If you're interested in future programs, keep an eye on our website’s “What's On” page or follow us on the Library's social media channels. Social media is a research tool that's often overlooked when it comes to locating information and resources about local history. There are a huge range of historians and hobbyists who have formed interest groups about local history or town history on Facebook, and there are many accounts on Instagram and forums on Whirlpool, Quora or Reddit. They can be places to share stories, celebrate wins and discoveries, and ask for help to find that missing piece for your research. These digital communities are also great places to meet other like minded people who share your passion. However, for some, it may be a potential drawback that for some of these groups you may need an account to access them or be active within them. But the good news is most of these are free to use.
If internet forums and social media aren't your thing there are still other research communities that you can connect with. Local libraries, museums, historical and genealogy societies can be a treasure trove of objects, artefacts and information about your town, parish or region.
In some cases, though, a town may be too small to have a specific history written about it. This may seem like a roadblock in your search, but it is worth approaching it from a different angle. While the history of the town may not exist, information about the locale can be found in other sources, like the history of the local school, a nearby estate or a pastoral station, a prominent business or industry, and even the history of a local significant family. While not likely to be as in-depth or as specific as a town history, you may still find information relevant to your own search.
If you have the time and resources, getting out into the field can generate information never before printed or published. Talk to locals or long time residents. Inquire with local clubs like the Country Women's Association(CWA), First Nations community groups, or even the fire brigade. The people there may be willing to sit down and talk about the area and their experiences and connections.
If you are unable to visit the town, though, the Library has a diverse collection of recorded histories in our oral histories and folklore collection. This collection is full of first-hand recollections and stories told by people who lived them. Some projects within the collection have a specific focus. One such project is the “Apples and Pears Oral History Project”, featuring interviews with orchardists from around Australia who speak about their childhood, family life, education and life in rural communities. These interviews can add rich detail to any research about a local area.
I hope these tips and ideas will be useful in your journey to research the history of your town or local area. It's a big job and with many histories there will be things we can't and will never know. But half the joy’s in the pursuit of facts.
You can find more research guides on our website. The guides provide links to Library and external resources and can be a great way to expand your search.
However, if you're coming up empty (despite your best efforts) and you can't find what you're looking for, we're here to help. You can use our Ask a Librarian service to get help from expert reference librarians. You can get in touch with librarians through our website.
Thanks for watching and as always, good luck with your research.
The National Library’s collections contain millions of digitised photos, posters, brochures, maps and almanacs from all over Australia. Together, they tell the story of regional Australia – including key moments in history, cultural events and tourism campaigns and land surveys and local industry.
Join reference librarian, Sam, to learn some useful tips and suggestions to get you started researching your town or local area with the National Library's collection.