Getting started in Local History

Where to begin

Local history is an interesting and absorbing subject and is often richly rewarding, but it can be hard to know where to start.

You may want to write the history of your town or village from prehistory to the present, but this could be daunting if you have never done local history before.

It is probably easier to begin with something specific that’s taken your interest, for example:

  • Where does that road name come from?
  • Why is that building decorated with those strange carvings?
  • What was life like here during World War Two?
  • What is the story behind that disused railway station?

How to begin

Talk to other people in your community, who may have lived there for a long time, to see if they know anything about your subject. Even if they don’t, their reminiscences will be fascinating. They may also have documents or old photographs they would be willing to share with you.

Use your local library to find local history books and guides that may answer your question or point you in the right direction.   They will show you how to research your topic, what sources you can use and where to look for relevant information.

Check the Kent Libraries catalogue to see if anything has been published on your chosen topic. Also look for any general histories of your area, which will provide useful background information and context.

If you are interested in a particular building, street or landscape feature, examine it closely for any clues it can provide. Find out how it has changed over time, using the historic maps and aerial photographs on the Kent Heritage Maps website here

Find out which local history society covers your area and have a look at its website. Perhaps someone from the society has already answered your question.

Look at the rest of Kent Archives website. It contains lots of useful information about researching specific topics and using particular types of record. Try searching the online catalogue to see if there are any documents relating to your question, or to that subject more generally.

Record anything you find carefully and accurately.

Most importantly of all, enjoy your research!