A book announcement arrived electronically this morning and reminded me how much I appreciate those who work to preserve local history.
Our local sheriff's agency has long benefited from a now-retired sergeant who made it his mission to preserve the history of the department's law enforcement officers. His efforts over the years have included publishing books on the subject. Once again, with an upcoming release, this author has focused on telling the story of our county's longest-standing sheriff, Thomas Cunningham. Serving his county from 1871 to 1899, Cunningham was instrumental in bringing many changes to the local law enforcement community.
Reading the announcement of the book's soon release reminded me that such local publications can be a worthwhile resource for those seeking more information on the places where their ancestors lived. While it is unlikely this latest book will become a best seller, it will find its own readership. Among those might be residents of our county, or fans of local history. In addition, followers of law enforcement stories may find the book a worthwhile read; after all, Cunningham was credited with apprehending several notorious criminals of that era.
There is one more group of people who can benefit from resources like this: researchers checking the book's index for mention of their own family members' names. This is exactly how I've located information on the men in my husband's ancestry who were involved in law enforcement careers.
The difficulty, though, is knowing where to find such local publications—or even to be aware that a specific book exists. Sure, we can look up a book on WorldCat—if we know the title and if the lending libraries claiming the title in their collection participate in that consortium of libraries. Some local gems, however, can only be unearthed by a different sort of search: a networking approach of asking everyone questions.
Years ago, when researching my father-in-law's family history, I did zero in on those ancestors who were police officers. I learned about the fraternal and social organizations which drew members from that occupation and inquired directly from them about resources. Often, one local contact person would refer me to a better connection. I credit the old genealogy forums online with facilitating such (to me) long distance discoveries, because they were my link to local people in the know.
This book announcement received today reminded me of that valuable link. While genealogy forums may now be passe, we have multiplied social media resources at our fingertips which can connect us with local people who just may know the answer we are seeking. While our ancestor's information may well be hidden behind a brick wall, sometimes the leaks that slip through the cracks in that wall can provide just the clues we need. Rather than only relying on the mammoth online resources we've been accustomed to trusting, we can branch out, learn to ask questions—lots of questions—and network within local areas to find the answers we need.