This case study accompanies the article "Creating and Using Locality Guides as Genealogical Tools" as published by the National Genealogical Society Magazine. Review that article first (found here) and then read the case study below for creating and using a locality guide focused on Holmes County, Ohio, below.
Holmes County, Ohio is located in central Ohio in what still presents as "Amish Country." I have 26 direct ancestors who lived, died, and/or resided in the county between 1819 and 1912. So, as you can guess, this county is one I need to understand deeply for its records, repositories, customs, laws, and more. Creating and using a locality guide is key to my research success.
I began managing the ProGen Study Groups in 2020, and one of my first initiatives was to "bring back" the locality guide assignment that had been eliminated when the program length was reduced. As a ProGen 25 student, the locality guide assignment was an "aha" moment for me. It really was the first time I understood how important locale knowledge is. Each ProGen student now creates a guide after a few months in the program. These guides are made available on the ProGen website for alumni-only use.
Because these student guides were "published," I think I sent the wrong message to ProGen students. Most of the guides I saw included long narratives, regional history, and too much text in them. That was interesting and fun stuff, but not what I think a locality guide should usually be. The guide is for YOU. For ME. For EACH OF US who is researching and using it. We don't need to read the county history each time; just once (ok, maybe twice!). What we need is the right type of guide that makes us more efficient and effective in our research.
Thus, the objective of the NGS Magazine article and this accompanying case study is to share some ideas that may benefit you as you create a locality guide. It gives us permission to exclude anything that we don't find relevant . . . and to include only what will help us be the best researcher possible. And, just about anything goes from a bare bones "limited" guide to an "extensive" guide. In creating one, you will learn a lot, and then apply it.
Check out the five steps below that mirror the description in the NGS Magazine article. These steps are:
#1 - Target the Location
#2 - Conduct a Literature Review
#3 - Write the Guide
#4 - Utilize the Guide
#5 - Refine Information
I have applied those "general" steps to a locality guide for Holmes County, Ohio as an example. And at the very bottom of the page you will see three downloads:
* Holmes County, OH Locality Guide - "extensive" version
* Holmes County, OH Locality Guide - "limited" version
* Template for a locality guide - you are welcome to begin with this
The first step in creating a locality guide is to target your location whether a town, county, state, region, or country. Holmes County was formed in 1824, being previously a part of Coshocton and Wayne Counties. Thus, I gathered information that was unique not only to Holmes County, but also began less exhaustive locality guides on contiguous counties (Richland, Ashland, Wayne, Stark, Tuscarawas, Coshocton, and Knox Counties) and parent counties (Wayne and Coshocton Counties). Holmes County is the targeted geography because so much of my research is conducted there. However, Ohio must also be included as the larger region, or state, because Holmes County is governed by Ohio. Laws and customs of Ohio are of importance to the genealogical researcher such when vital events were required to be recorded.
Of course my ancestors were not conveniently located in the middle of Holmes County. Many of them resided in Washington Township which is in the northwest corner of the county and thus was contiguous to three other counties. And, to make it even more fun, of course there were jurisdictional changes this early in Ohio's growth and expansion. My go-to resource for county boundary changes is mapofus.org although there are other good ones also. For Ohio, see mapofus.org/ohio. On this site, click through the county formation years to see how counties were formed and then divided.
I wish that townships were also shown on those maps; that would make it so much easier to review when I am comparing and assessing the hundreds and hundreds of pages of taxes and deeds for my family. Spending hours perusing the tax lists and deeds can be fun (ha!). To supplement the county formation on that site, I pasted together the 7-county map seen in the image to the left. It not only shows Holmes County and its contiguous counties, but also the townships. More importantly, the map also show the Range, Township, and Sections that I often refer to when researching.
For any of you researching families in Ohio who owned land, well we can commiserate together! Ohio has the most complex history of land distribution in the country. I didn't want to bog down my locality guide with this information however, so I wrote another document that describes it. I rarely need to reference this, as it is not a repository, but do on occasion refresh my memory by referencing it. You can view it here as an example.
Conducting a Literature Review is the second step to creating the locality guide. A Literature Review (LitReview) is a systemic process of identifying known and published information about a topic, reading it, summarizing it, and then using it for one's own purpose. For genealogists a LitReview can be used in a myriad of ways. To read more about LitReviews, click here. Regarding a Locality Guide, conducting a LitReview helps to not only save the researcher time, but also helps craft a comprehensive guide.
For Holmes County and Ohio, my sources included the ones listed below and partially shown in the image on the right. As you contemplate your own, compare not only the exact sources I show here, but the categories from which you can find information such as books, journals, wikis, social media, and more (shown in italics below). And before you begin, know what your objective is - you don't need an extensive search and spend a lot of time if you're creating a simple guide.
Professionally Published Materials
* Holmes County Historical Sketches, book by Holmes County Historical Society (in WorldCat)
* Holmes County Ohio to 1985, book by Holmes County Historical Society (in WorldCat)
* Holmes County Ohio, 1824-1889, book by Henry Howe (in WorldCat)
* NGS Research in the States Series, Ohio, by Diane VanSkiver Gagel
* Researching Your Ohio Ancestors, a webinar on Legacy Family Tree Webinars, by Chris Staats
* United States: Midwest Region Ohio Overview, webinars and online classes by Family Search
* Ohio Genealogical Society Quarterly, a journal.
* A listing of entrymen on lands in Holmes Co., OH, by L. Richard Kocher (in WorldCat)
Physical Repositories, Archives, Historical Societies, Libraries, University Libraries and More
* Ohio History Connection - Archives and Educational Resources
* USGenWeb for Holmes County Genealogical Society
* Holmes County Library, Genealogy Department and Resources
Wikis and Other User Contributed Sites with Information and/or Links*
* Genealogy Express for Holmes Co
* Random Acts of Genealogy Kindness (RAOGK) for Holmes Co
* Genealogy Inc for Holmes Co
* Linkpendium for Holmes Co
* Genealogy Trails for Holmes Co (this seemingly out of date website just produced a good lead for my HILE family line in the German Reformed church; found from an initial internet search using a variety of keywords)
* Facebook Page for Holmes Co Genealogical Society
* Internet search in general for Holmes County
* As with all published materials, but especially wikis, user contributed sites, and unsourced references, errors and omissions may exist.
Home Library Collection Depicting Ohio and Holmes County Holdings
The third step in creating a locality guide is writing it (obviously that has to be done at some point!). The guide I have created and regularly use, refine, and use again for Holmes Co is extensive. You can view it in the downloads at the bottom of this page. For demonstration sake, I have also created a simpler version of that guide that is less comprehensive (also in downloads). Over time, I have developed a template for the locality guide that suits my work style. I suggest developing one to fit your style. You can develop your own, or you are welcome to begin with my blank Microsoft Word template (available in downloads section below).
I chose to use Microsoft Word out of many options available such as other computer software or cloud-based systems. My preference is to have "control" over all my own work as opposed to storing it in the cloud. That way, I know I have access to it always. Don't worry! I have two forms of backing up all the work on my computer - an external local hard drive and a cloud-based backup. Also, I will almost always have my laptop with me when I need access to a locality guide. Any format is good as long as you're comfortable with it, use it, and it makes your research more efficient and effective.
The most efficient way for me to work is with quick links, usually a lot of them on one or two pages. The links don't need descriptions. These links connect to databases, and even specific pages, online. For example, I have live links directly to pages in the tax break by years on Family Search for this county. I place the record set links I use most frequently first. These include vital records, deeds, probate, taxes, and more. View a sample of that first page in the image on the left.
Adding content, of course, is the most important aspect of not only this step, but of creating the entire guide. You have already identified the extent of the guide you want. If it is an large one, like my first example below in downloads, then you will have a longer guide with a lot of information. In most cases, you will not need to "write" much; as much of it may be links. The locality guide is not meant to replace narrative history - its goal is to serve you and your research process. If you need to remind yourself of a certain law, do it. But, if YOU don't need it, don't include it. The key is to not think of this as a publishable "article" but rather a research tool that you will use, refine, and use again over and over.
You've written the locality guide, and thus the fourth step is to use it! Although it may seem silly to prescribe when to use a locality guide, it serves as a useful reminder of situations other than "normal research mode."
I use my Holmes County Locality Guide, of course, when I am researching in Holmes County but also in its contiguous counties. Opening the guide reminds me of lesser-used resources, including the items on my bookshelf as opposed to just the "stuff" on a computer.
Look at the image on the right. Notice on my first two pages of "quick links" for my Holmes County Locality Guide, that I have used checkboxes as bullet points. I often print out my first two pages of these links, and use them as reminders of record sets. I then check off each one I search, or make a note beside it if it is not needed. (A recent discovery of high quality erasable pens has really made me happy!)
This template did not create itself overnight. It has evolved over years and with different influences such as other guides (maybe yours!), wikis, my own checklists, and managing ProGen Study Groups. Yours doesn't need to begin perfectly. It will change with each guide, and as you refine it.
Locality Guide Quick Links Sample Used as a Research Checklist.
While I am working on one family line, or in a county in general, I have the guide "open." The refinement aspect is always in play. I tweak it constantly through updating information, adding a new source, or making a quick note.
I am also a fan of "placeholder" notes, ideas, or action items. For example, as I was researching a Holmes County ancestor, I wondered if the state held any copies of the federal censuses. I didn't have time to inquire and follow-up right then, but i made a note in my guide to do so. I write these action items in red font as reminders of something that needs action. If I have taken action and then am waiting on a response from a library or archive, I convert them to orange until I receive that response.
You may be deeply committed to a geography like I am to Holmes and its neighbors. However, your guide may not be a county - it could be a country, say Ireland. Or perhaps it is a U.S. region such as "the South." Maybe it is Jewish research, which although is not completely geographically based, has nuances like a locale. The following four ideas may serve for this level, or any, level of commitment:
A) Consult an Expert
Find an expert on your area and ask for their opinion. Cheryl Brown Abernathy is THE go-to expert for Holmes County as well as several of its contiguous county neighbors. She resides, and researches her own family, in Holmes County. While I won't list all of Cheryl's accomplishments here, I will mention a couple: she serves as a Trustee for the Ohio Genealogical Society and manages multiple websites including USGenWeb for Holmes County. Cheryl and I first met when I needed records pulled locally.
I asked Cheryl to review my Holmes County Locality Guide, and bless her, she did! She gave me a few tips and ideas and I made those changes. It now feels "validated" and makes me comfortable continuing to use it. Find out more about Cheryl on her website www.thepastlane.com.
Whenever possible, visit the location of your guide. I know, I know. That is obvious. Visiting any archive, library, courthouse, or other repository is so much better doing it yourself. But it is not always possible. However, when it is possible, go! I combined this "visit" once with a "consult an expert" above and spent a day with Cheryl in Holmes County. We went to the courthouse, the local genealogical society's building, and the library. And even though I live 2,517 miles away, I can still picture those places.
On another visit, I spent extra time in the Holmes County Library. The main library has a room dedicated to genealogy. In it are some hard copy family histories, newspaper access, and microfilm. The library has put some, but not all, newspapers online via advantage-preservation (http://holmescounty.advantage-preservation.com/). So, for the years not online, a request to a librarian usually delivers a speedy response. I think my biggest "find" in the library is that it houses three years of tax records that somehow were missed when FamilySearch digitized them. Thus, if I looked only online an determined that these three years were not extant, I would be mistaken. Now, I know that they are in the library and can be accessed upon request. This kind of detail is what can make your locality guide useful to you (and sometimes to others).
The Lakeville / Shoup cemetery holds a special place in my heart; my fourth great grandfather, George Joyce, is buried there along with some other family members. I have visited several times. It is a small cemetery that, like so many we see, had been neglected. I sponsored its restoration and you can see some photos of that in the image on the left for "before" and "after." Most of the stones in this cemetery had not been entered into FindAGrave at my first visit. So, I made a list and took pictures of all of them and entered them later. Additionally, the library hosts webpages titled 'Holmes County Cemeteries' of great work done by a group of "Library Ladies" who indexed many cemetery records. I matched what I could, and also entered those records into FindAGrave.
C) Join the Local Society
I also have a membership in the Ohio Genealogical Society which gives me access to their publications (Ohio Genealogical Society Quarterly), news, and other benefits.
There may be other local places to join or follow such as historical societies, archives, libraries and more.
D) Skim Articles, Journals, Blogs and More
Fortunately for me, one genealogy researcher and writer, Ronald A. Hill, researches in Holmes County. He has published three articles over the last few years in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly (membership required to access the archives) that touch upon Holmes County, seen below.
It is easy to search each issue of the NGSQ, for a keyword or phrase. Pull up the December issue of each volume (year); it indexes the entire volume. Do a keyword search (on a Mac Command and F, on Windows Control and F). For me, this was simply "Holmes." The results brought these articles noted below, as well as a couple things I didn't need (families named Holmes and editorial staff named Holmes) which were easily weeded out:
1) Ronald A. Hill, PhD, CG Emeritus, FASG, “Forest A. Fisher a.k.a. Waltz: Given Away at Birth” National Genealogical Society Quarterly, 106, (June 2018): 111-121.
2) Ronald A. Hill, PhD, CG Emeritus, FASG, “1861 Plat Maps and the 1860 Federal Census of Hanover Township, Ashland County, Ohio: A Comparison” National Genealogical Society Quarterly, 107, (March 2019): 55-80.
3) Ronald A. Hill, PhD, CG Emeritus, FASG, “Schnible, Schnidley, Shinble. Shumbly, Snaivley, Snavly, Snavly, Snawly, Sneely, Sneivly, Snevely, Snible, Snibly, Snivel, Snively, or Swively of Holmes County, Ohio” National Genealogical Society Quarterly, 108, (March 2020): 60-72.
New sources that I learned of from Dr. Hill's articles included:
A) Descriptive Book of Drafted Men, Richland Twp., Holmes Co.," 11:54, 26 September 1864, RG 110: NA-Chicago.
B) Colton's Railroad & Commercial Map of the United States and Canada (New York: G. W. and C. B. Colton, 1871), unpaginated. This was a reference for determining ease of travel between Loudonville, Ashland County and Niles, Trumbull County, Ohio.
Good luck and have fun creating and crafting a locality guide that works best for you in your research situation.
If you are interested in learning more about writing and using locality guides, these resources may be of interest to you:
Elder, Diana, and Nicole Dyer, “Locality Research,” Research Like a Pro: A Genealogist’s Guide (Highland, Utah: Family Locket Books, 2018), 46-60.
________, hosts, “RLP 4: Locality Research Part 1.” Research Like a Pro Genealogy Podcast (podcast), 6 August 2018, accessed 16 March 2022,
https://familylocket.com/rlp-4-locality-research-part-1/. Additional podcast episodes that mention creating or use of a locality guide include: 5, 50, 85, 87, 115, 150, and 175.
“FamilySearch Research Wiki: A Genealogy Resource Guide,” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/Main_Page : accessed 16 March 2022), database, updated 21 January 2022.
Greenhalgh, Jana, “Assembling Your Personal Research Reference Guides,” live webinar sponsored by the Utah Genealogical Association, Utah Genealogical Association (https://ugagenealogy.org/blog.php?sid=5 : accessed 16 March 2022); recording of webinar given 2 November 2021. Login to view.
________, “Assembling Your Personal Research Reference Guides,” Utah Genealogical Association (https://ugagenealogy.org/blog.php?sid=5 : accessed 16 March 2022), handout, updated 2 November 2021. Login to view.
Henderson, Harold, “Research Procedures,” Elizabeth Shown Mills, editor, Professional Genealogy: Preparation, Practice & Standards, Volume 2 (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2018), 317-336, particularly 319-324.
“Research Reference Guide,” International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists, International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists (https://www.icapgen.org/become-accredited/research-reference-guide/ : accessed 16 March 2022), online article.
Jones, Thomas Wright, “Building a Credible Lineage Despite Missing Information, Conflicting and Incorrect Records, and Undocumented Publications,” live presentation sponsored by the Board for Certification of Genealogists, National Genealogical Society (https://www.playbackngs.com : accessed 16 March 2022); recording of webinar given at 2019 National Genealogical Society Family History conference. Login to view.
Joyce, Jan, DBA, CG®, CGL(SM), AG®, “Literatures Reviews are not just for Academicians! Advance Your Genealogy Research,” Crossroads Magazine, V 16, no 1 (Winter 2021): 28-32. (Subscription required: https://ugagenealogy.org/fileDownload.php?cid=12&sid=2 : accessed 16 March 2022.) Login to view or click here.
Koford, Rebecca Whitman, “Writing the Family Narrative: A Strategy for Breaking Down Brick Walls,” live presentation sponsored by the Board for Certification of Genealogists, National Genealogical Society (https://www.playbackngs.com : accessed 16 March 2022); recording of webinar given at 2019 National Genealogical Society Family History conference. Login to view.
Mills, Elizabeth Shown, “Context: A Powerful Tool for Problem Solving,” live presentation sponsored by the Board for Certification of Genealogists, National Genealogical Society (https://www.playbackngs.com : accessed 16 March 2022); recording of webinar given at 2019 National Genealogical Society Family History conference. Login to view.
“Ohio Research Outline,” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, FamilySearch (http://files.lib.byu.edu/family-history-library/research-outlines/US/Ohio.pdf : accessed 16 March 2022), online article.
Peters, Nancy A., “Reporting on Research: Standards Encourage Better Communication,” live presentation sponsored by the Board for Certification of Genealogists, National Genealogical Society (https://www.playbackngs.com : accessed 16 March 2022); recording of webinar given at 2019 National Genealogical Society Family History conference.
ProGen Study Groups, ProGen Resources: Locality Guides (https://progenstudygroups.com/resources/locality-guides/ : accessed 16 March 2022), online collection. (Hundreds of different locality guides which are available to ProGen alumni only.)
“Research Outlines,” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/Main_Page : accessed 16 March 2022), online article, updated 14 May 2020.
Stoddard, Julie, “Creating a Research Reference Guide,” ICAPGen, 4 October 2018, educational video, 20:13, (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JXG7UXkq1YQ : accessed 216 March 2022).
Taplin, Cari, “Building a Locality Guide: Miscellaneous Stuff,” Genealogy Pants (blog), posted 11 August 2021 (https://genealogypants.com/category/research-general/locality-guides/ : accessed 16 March 2022).
Taylor, Mindy “Using Locality Research to Solve Complex Problems, ICAPGen, 1 October 2021, educational video, 54:33, (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a8VPOCOgxXU : accessed 16 March 2022.)
Wayne, Debbie Parker, “Writing a Conclusion Incorporating DNA Evidence,” live presentation sponsored by the Board for Certification of Genealogists, National Genealogical Society (https://www.playbackngs.com : accessed 16 March 2022); recording of webinar given at 2019 National Genealogical Society Family History conference. Login to view.