Guide to Local history research

Local history can focus on a village, town or geographic area. Telling its story doesn't have to be in the form of a year account, you can also look at themes that have shaped its development and the lives of the inhabitants. Is there anything that your town or village is particularly renowned for? A particular event that interests you?

Getting started

A good starting point for the local historian is to look at works that have already been published. The more you read about the background of your subject, the better. To begin with, this information will be easier to find and read than original archive materials; it will also give you a good idea of how much, or how little, has been written, and where the gaps are. Check as many sources as you can, including the Local Studies collection, books in your local library, bookshops and the internet.

Tip: It is also a good idea to talk to people who live in the area. The personal recollections of those who have lived there for many years – or have families going back generations – can be a wonderful source of information for your research.

What to research

When looking into the history of a place, it is important to look at the surrounding area and greater county as well. No community lives in complete isolation from another, and you may find interesting or useful anecdotes from unlikely places.

Focusing on a period in time will help you narrow down the sources of information most useful to you. But just like location, be open to looking at archives material outside of your chosen dates, as it may show trends that led to an event or cultural shift.

Some good starting points for local research include:

  • Who lived there, who were the principal residents? Check patterns of land ownership in the area

  • What was the population, and why did it increase/decrease? Look at trends in migration

  • What type of work did the villagers do and what changes in employment took place over the years?

  • How were the poor and destitute looked after? Were there any local charities? What were housing and sanitation like?

  • What were the instances of recorded crime, who were the perpetrators and how were they punished?

  • Are there any unique features of the village, with regard to topography or industry, and how has this affected village life?

  • What schooling did the children receive, and what were the standards?

  • When were the children expected to start work?

  • How was the village governed in the past, and how has this changed?

  • What was the main form of transportation; when and how has it changed?

East Riding Museums

Dedicated curators and volunteers research the social history of the East Riding, with new exhibits on show throughout the year. You can view past exhibitions on the East Riding Museums website for free. Take a look at the Museums Online page.

East Riding Museums

Local history books

Local history is a popular topic, and there are many books for most towns and villages. There are many reference books for most towns and villages in the Archives, and Bridlington and Goole Local Studies Libraries hold a good selection. You can also borrow books for free with East Riding Libraries, or there are some for sale in the Treasure House gift shop.

Visit East Riding Libraries

Image: Discovering Local History by John Barrett. Reserve your copy on the East Riding Libraries catalogue.

The Victoria County History (VCH) encyclopaedias

This encyclopaedic record of England's places and people is an invaluable tool for the local historian. The information provided by the VCH covers the earliest known history of the village, its economic development; manors and estates, local government, the church, nonconformity, education and charities for the poor. There are currently seven volumes covering the East Riding of Yorkshire and work is still being undertaken today on areas that are not yet covered.

This full list of the Victoria County History can be found under Media and Published on our What's in the Archives page.

What's in the Archives

Independent museums

There are a number of independent museums in the East Riding, providing a rich resource for students of local history. Find an independent museum near you on the East Riding of Yorkshire Council website.

Find local museums