County History Books

In doing genealogical research, one should always check the county history books but one should also be aware of particular issues that these sources have.

First, many counties will appoint an official county historian and often this person will, as part of his official duty, will compile a county history. However, many times, a person is appointed county historian based upon the fact that this person was the person who previously wrote the county history book.

The point being that these “official” county historians seldom, if ever, have academic training in historical analysis or proper research processes. They were appointed because of the interest and participation they have had in the local historical or genealogical association or because they had already written the county history book.

Therefore, the quality of their “official” county history books vary greatly. Often these books are merely the collection of oral traditions (along with church histories, militia rolls and the like) but these oral traditions (and some may actually be true) take on a greater authority because of their appearance in the “official” record.

I should mention a special category of county history books – the committee-written book.

These books, often with the title “The Heritage of ______ County” are produced by publishing companies. These companies (who take subscriptions in order to guarantee they sell enough books to cover their cost) will form a committee of local people. Any “family article” that is submitted will be accepted – after all, anyone who has an article published is sure to buy the book. No verification of the accuracy of the submission will be made.

In many of these “heritage” books one will find multiple articles of the same ancestors with greatly differing accounts. It is just like the differing Ancestry.Com family trees except in a printed format. Seldom are sources cited.

I am not saying county history books are not valuable for they are and they have helped me tremendously through the years. But one has to understand what they are and place the information contained within them in context. Remember:

  • The terms “official county historian” and “official county history” are meaningless in terms of validity and reliability.
  • In general, a book compiled by a committee was promoted by a publishing company whose goal was to sell books. The publishing company is not concerned with historical accuracy – they are not going to jeopardize a sale by telling Mr. Smith that his distant cousin’s research is better and will be the only article on the SMITH family in the book.

County History Books for Mashburn Research

The following county histories are especially useful for Mashburn genealogists:

Bagley, Garland. History of Forsyth County, Georgia. Volumes 1 and 2

The Heritage of Onslow County. Winston-Salem, NC : Hunter Publishing company, 1983.

Shadburn, Don. Pioneer History of Forsyth County, Georgia (1981, 1985, 1996).

Shadburn and Brooke. Crimson and Sabres: A Confederate Record of Forsyth County, Georgia (1997).

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