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Using Locality Guides to Help with Your Research

Using Locality Guides to Help with Your Research

When you start researching in a jurisdiction or a time period that is new to you, you will want to keep track of the little bits of helpful information that you find so that you don't have to look up that information again. You can do this is by maintaining Locality Files (now known as Locality Guides). The Family History Library detailed this strategy in their Research Guide on how to organize your paper files. You can see it HERE. These Research Guides are what we used before the FamilySearch Wiki. I think I had every Research Guide they ever published. 

Let's say I have an ancestor who lived in Perry County, Mississippi and I have never done research in Perry County before. I need to learn a lot of things about Perry County before I can even get started. These are the things I will add to my Locality Guide for Perry County. I need to know a basic history of the county such as when it was formed and what the parent counties were as well as a basic timeline of events for that county. I love to find old county history books that are in the public domain. Google Books, Internet Archive, Hathi Trust, and FamilySearch Books are my favorite websites to find these books. I also want to have contact info for the courthouse as well as anything special I need to know about accessing their records. What records do they have onsite? Did they have any record losses due to fire or flood? I would include contact info for the local genealogical and/or historical society, the local libraries, and any other possible repositories. I like to have a current map of the area (though I do use Google Maps a lot now) as well as any old maps I can find.

I keep all of my information electronically which means I can create hyperlinks to things on the internet such as online books, the available databases at the major online repositories, and the FamilySearch card catalog. I can link right to the Perry County page. I love newspapers and I use the Library of Congress' Chronicling America website to find what was in publication and when.  I only have to do the search once and then I can link to it. For example, HERE is the list for Perry County. It saves me a lot of time not having to go back to the website and do repeated searches. Don't forget that if you have never done research in the state of Mississippi you will also need to collect some general resources at the state level and not just at the county level. Besides my Locality Guides I also gather reference material on the major records groups (military, land, probate, etc.).

It may seem like a lot of work but this information is essential to be able to thoroughly research your ancestors. It will also save you time in the long run. The next time I have a person of interest in this same county I already have the needed resources. I can always update it if I find any new information. Today most genealogists keep these notes electronically in applications such as Evernote or OneNote instead of using paper files. You can also use a word processing program or a spreadsheet program. These are great because not only can you hyperlink to the resources you find on the internet, you can also scan anything you have that is on paper (pages out of the above referenced books for example) and have those pages readily available instead of having to lug out the books each time. You can even design a template so that all of your guides follow the same format.

I have included an example as a downloadable PDF. This example comes from my friend Eva Goodwin. We were in ProGen together and creating a Locality Guide was one of our assignments. I liked Eva's better than mine so I asked her if I could use hers an an example and she very graciously sent it to me. 

Download Halifax Locality Guide (Goodwin)

My real Locality Guides are not as fancy as what we did for our ProGen assignment but I wanted to give you an idea of the types of things you should include.  I will say that I am working on designing a template so that my guides are more uniform. 

The best way to get started is to create a locality guide for a jurisdiction that you are very familiar with. I'll bet that by the time you are done you will have found some resources that you didn't know about.

 An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.
— Benjamin Franklin


Michele Simmons Lewis, CG® is part of the Legacy Family Tree team at MyHeritage. She handles the enhancement suggestions that come in from our users as well as writing for Legacy News. You can usually find her hanging out on the Legacy User Group Facebook page answering questions and posting tips.


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Hi Michele - Fellow ProGen participant here (32 - we finish in 3 months). My locality guide is also available online if anyone is looking for another example. It's pretty extensive because I chose New Orleans, which has a ridiculous number of sources available, and I put much more into it than the assignment required. It can be downloaded for free at .

Like you, I love finding old county/city guides online; I also like to read contemporaneous newspapers and other publications to get a feel for the culture of the time and place. Once I start down that rabbit hole it's hard to climb back out!

I would love to see (and share the post with my readers) your locality guide template if you decide to put it online. That's a great idea.

Thank you, Mary Ann. I know our readers will appreciate another example!

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