Have you ever considered making a locality guide for your research? What is a locality guide, you say?

It’s a document you create that contains key snippets of information relevant to genealogical research in a specific locale. The idea is to have one central guide that you can refer to time and time again when you are researching that place.

If you are like me, you find a good database or website and then spend untold hours in the future trying to find that same database.

If you take the time to put that information in a locality guide, you remove that wasted time from your future schedule. Some of the guide is explanatory text, but it can contain links to databases, repository websites, and guidance on genealogical subjects and records.

You can create a locality guide for a county, but my preference is to create them for each state where I research. I’m in the process of updating my guide for Maryland.

First Steps

You can use whatever format you are most comfortable with; for me that is Microsoft Word and a very simple (you guessed it) table.

Ideas for what information to include in the first section include:

–When the state was founded, and by whom
–State capitals, Legislature name
–State timeline, current state government webpage
–Destroyed courthouses in the state
–Major Repositories
–Historical Landmarks, Key Events
–State Laws (also info about state constitutions)

I also include a section on geography which includes:

–Simple current county map
–County formation maps online (interactive)
–Names of cities people migrated to, or from
–Links to more detailed geography, geology, rivers and waterways

In my state guide, I include more specific information on those counties I am researching in the state. For example, I will include links to county formation and timelines for Montgomery County and Somerset County, since those are my focus counties.

Links to Wikipedia entries and Familysearch Wikis also find a place in my guide. And I have links to the state archives websites that discuss records and research in Maryland in general.

As I walk through this, I’m going to share some of the images from my Maryland guide, and you can see the first screen shot below.


The second major section of my locality guide focuses on record types. For births, marriages, deaths, divorces, I include the years available and whether indexes exist. Other sections are for most other major record types, which include:

–City Directories

These sections include short descriptors and links to all the major databases with that record or index for that record. Links include all the relevant Familysearch databases and links from sites outside of Ancestry and Family, such as major universities.

Other Sections

How you organize your guide, like anything else we organize, is related to how your mind best categorizes information. I like to add additional sections covering topics such as:

–Photograph collections
–Digital books & articles
–Other external websites (such as Digital Maryland)

You might include information on immigration, or links for ethnic groups. I include specialized links to for African American related sources, and slavery. I also find it useful to list the major laws and timelines related to slavery as well as free blacks in the state.

I also include a bibliography of the most helpful books on genealogical and historical research in the state.

Closing Thoughts

Currently, my Maryland Locality Guide has 9 pages, and though it has taken some time to craft, it’s going to benefit me greatly in the future. Again, for shorter versions, you may want to create one for your county of interest.

Be sure to include a list of acronyms for your guide to save some space. For example, I used ANC for Ancestry, MSA for Maryland State Archives, LOC for Library of Congress and so on.

Key websites to mine for information are those for:

–The state archives
–The state or local genealogical society
–The state or local historical society
–Familysearch databases and wikis
–Local courthouse websites

You can also mine Cyndi’s List for your state to find relevant links, and to includes links to sites such as US Gen Web.

There are plenty of genealogy blogs that discuss locality guides; just google it for more examples and more ideas. I also really like the Research Guides available at the Library of Congress’ website. Here’s a guide they have for the state of Alabama.

In the end, there’s no right or wrong way to make one of these, its value will be in its usefulness for you in your research. Of course, you’ll add to it over time as you find more information.

Now, on to updating my guide for Tennessee and creating one for Alabama.

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