by Nathan W. Murphy, MA, AG®
Imagine how exciting it would be if, after discovering the birthplace of an ancestor, you learned some dedicated soul had taken the time to sort out all of the families in your ancestor’s community. Think how much time it would save you! Administrators of one-place studies do just that.
Wikipedia’s article “One-Place Study,” provides the following definition of a one-place study:
One-place studies are a branch of family history with a focus on the entire population of a single European village, not just a single, geographically dispersed family line.
Although prevalent in Europe, one-place studies are actually taking place around the globe. Norwegians use the term bygdebok; Germans call them Ortsfamilienbücher, Dorfsippenbücher, and Ortssippenbücher; Americans often refer to them as county heritage books; while in England, the British prefer the terms “parish reconstitution” or “one-place study.” In this article, they will simply be called one-place studies.
Quality and Quantity
One-place studies differ in quality and quantity, depending upon the scope of the investigation. Some of the highest-quality studies have been conducted by professors and students at the University of Cambridge, Harvard, l’Université de Montréal, and l’Univerité de Liège. These studies are normally conducted to analyze historical demographic trends and utilize only single sources, such as ecclesiastical parish registers. They may only cover a specified time range, deemed “of academic interest.”
On the other hand, hobbyists may complete one-place studies for places where their ancestors lived. They may utilize multiple sources in their compilations and cover longer time frames; however, because they are secondary sources, and these individuals may lack historical training, genealogists should always check the information for accuracy.
Bibliography of One-Place Studies
It would be nearly impossible to identify all one-place studies throughout the world and keep the list updated as new publications are released; however, here you will find a list of such studies known to the author, as well as indications of where to search if your place of interest does not appear.
All parish registers from French-speaking Québec through 1799 are available online at a subscription web site: Programme de Recherche en Démographie Historique.
Check out our new England Expert Link’s page!
One of the top one-place studies conducted by an English genealogist treats Wirksworth, Derbyshire, England. John Palmer, the administrator of the Wirksworth Project, also maintains a list of one-place studies in the British Isles, along with updated contact details for other administrators at The One-Place Study Website. One excellent project overlooked by their lists covers Moretonhampstead, Devon.
In his study of life in medieval England, Dr. Zvi Razi reconstituted hundreds of families listed in manor court rolls from Halesowen, England in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. He published a book about this study: Life, Marriage and Death in a Medieval Parish: Economy, Society and Demography in Halesowen, 1270-1400 (Cambridge, 1980). Unfortunately, back in the pre-computer age when he conducted this research, he used note cards and translated the abbreviated Latin, in which the manuscripts were written, into abbreviated Hebrew, as he made notes. Now his notes are of little use to anyone besides himself! But the book is fascinating!
The Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies (Canterbury) produces quality studies of this type. One of their projects abstracted virtually all late medieval and early modern sources pertaining to the town of Romsey, Hampshire, England, including wills, parish registers, Quaker records, parish chest documents, poll books, quarter sessions, stray marriages of Romsey residents in other parishes, stray christenings of Romsey residents in other parishes, land records, hearth tax returns, trade directories, assize orders, chancery proceedings, patent rolls, newspaper abstracts, census records, lay subsidies, terriers, tithe books, and electoral registers. This is definitely one of the most developed one-place studies for England. The collection has been microfilmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah and is available at the Family History Library and satellite Family History Centers. GSU cataloguers titled it “Miscellaneous records relating to Hampshire and the town of Romsey” (see FHL Microfilms 1544503-1544505). Of course, it is also available in its original form at Canterbury.
While it doesn’t treat all families resident there, George Francis Farnham’s Leicestershire Medieval Village Notes: Histories of Manors and Villages, Including Vital Records of Persons and Family compiled in the early 1900s (see FHL Microfilms 804151-804161) contain thousands of abstracts from public documents at The National Archives and British Library pertaining to many families from medieval Leicestershire. Thanks to Douglas Richardson for informing me of this significant study. It took 10 microfilms to copy!
One-place studies gained popularity and notoriety in Germany during Hitler’s rule as the Nazis sought to document the pure Aryan race. Fortunately, that is no longer the objective of such studies. Several bibliographies of German Ortsfamilienbücher are available in print, CD-ROM, and online. There are literally thousands of studies, which also cover Germanic regions of Central and Eastern Europe. Here are some of the guides:
- Walter Schaub, Dorfsippenbücher-Ortssippenbücher (History and bibliography of the published town genealogies of Germany) (Neustadt/Aisch, 1975).
- Franz Heinzmann, Bibliographie der Ortsippenbücher in Deutschland (Düsseldorf, 1991).
- Volkmar Weiss, Katja Muchow, and Deutsche Zentralstelle für Genealogie, Bestandsverzeichnis der Deutschen Zentralstelle für Genealogie Leipzig, Teil IV: Ortsfamilienbücher mit Standort Leipzig in Deutscher Bücherei und Deutscher Zentralstelle für Genealogie (Neustadt/Aisch, 1996).
- Volkmar Weiss, Katja Münchow, Ortsfamilienbücher mit Standort Leipzig in Deutscher Bücherei und Deutscher Zentralstelle fur Genealogie. 2nd edition (Neustadt/Aisch, 1998).
For those published on the Internet, visit Online Ortsfamilienbücher.
Many Italian-American immigrants originated in Southern Italy and Sicily. A group of these immigrants’ descendants created a wonderful site about the families of Termini Imerese, a city in Sicily, titled the Termini Imerese Database. Some portions of the site are free and others are fee-based.
Using keyword searches on the Family History Library Catalog, the best international guide to one-place studies, we counted 291 bydeboker, click here to see our list. Bygdebok means “rural chronicles” or “community books.” They are arranged on the Catalog in the “Genealogy” section under each place name.
United States of America
One-place studies come in all shapes and sizes in the United States of America. In the South, there are commercial entities, such as Turner Publications in Paducah, Kentucky, Taylor Publishing Company in Dallas, Texas, and Walsworth Publishing Company in Waynesville, North Carolina, which have published hundreds of books on family histories covering specific counties. Turner Publications maintains a list of these “Local History Books” online. These compilations consist of thousands of biographical sketches written by modern genealogists. Though they often contain errors, and do not list every person from the historic populations of their counties, they are quite useful. Incomplete coverage is largely the result of inferior record keeping in this region of the world.
Lois Green Carr, Ph.D. (Harvard), created index cards on all residents of St. Mary’s County, Maryland. These cards have been scanned and made available online at Dr. Lois Green Carr’s Biographical Files of 17th and 18th Century Marylanders. For some individuals, Carr found material to fill out one or two cards. For others, she filled out over 100 cards. Information, such as whether a person was an immigrant, or born within the colonies, occupations, families, and economic status are indicated for each person. Unfortunately, many scholarly studies that have used family reconstitution techniques, are filed away in professor’s offices and inaccessible to the public.
Darrett B. and Anita Rutman compiled 12,200 biographies concerning residents of Middlesex County, Virginia between 1650 and 1750. The material was used to write their book A Place in Time: Middlesex County, Virginia 1650-1750. Where this collection is currently stored and how to access it are currently unknown to me.
There are many other examples of this type of study in the United States, such as Orra Eugene Monnette’s 7-volume First Settlers of Ye Plantations of Piscataway and Woodbridge, Olde East New Jersey, 1664-1714: A Period of Fifty Years (Los Angeles, 1930-1935), Frank J. Doherty’s 7-volume The Settlers of the Beekman Patent, Dutchess County, New York: An Historical and Genealogical Study of All the 18th Century Settlers in the Patent (Pleasant Valley, New York, 1990), and Cecil O’Dell’s Pioneers of Old Frederick County, Virginia (Marceline, Missouri, 1995), which quantitatively, cover the same percentage of the population as their European equivalents. This type of publication may be found through the Family History Library Catalog under the heading “Genealogy,” arranged by places.
A nice website titled the Berne Historical Project and it’s sister site the Albany Hilltowns are excellent examples of how to effectively use technology in in a one-place studies (covers Berne, Knox, Westerlo, and Rensselaerville in Albany County, New York). Albany Hilltowns utilizes MediaWiki to allow visitors to add and update inforamtion about historical residents of these New York towns. They spread the word through Facebook.
One-place studies in the USA also take the form of annotated censuses published by local genealogists covering specific counties, such as the the 1820 Harland County, Kentucky, Census and Tax List, Annotated (Harlan, Kentucky, 1985). A “Title Search” on the Family History Library Catalog for the terms “annotated” and “census” resulted in 72 matches, almost all of which cover single counties within the United States.
This type of study and analysis will continue in years to come. Dick Eastman predicts that in the future such studies will be available more and more online, using programs like PhpGedView, which allow multiple users to edit online databases simultaneously in real time. Albany Hilltowns is an example of this development. Several one-place studies are listed on PhpGedView’s web site under Sites Using PhpGedView, which demonstrate these new capabilities. Such advancements will open many avenues and allow one-place studies to be developed and completed more rapidly, as the work load can be distributed among hundreds or thousands of contributors.
Several one-place DNA studies have also begun, wherein the genetic origins of whole communities are being analyzed. FamilyTreeDNA’s web site contains a list, including places such as Calabria, Italy; Frosinone, Italy; Guanches, Canary Isles; Galicia, Spain; Hooper’s Island in Dorchester County, Maryland; Shetland Islands, Scotland; Osturna, Slovakia; and Yamaguchi Ken, Japan. Isolated islands create interesting and revealing projects.
It would be great if every genealogist chose at least one place that housed a high concentration of their ancestry, and contributed to the advancement of genealogy by assisting others and carrying out a one-place study. Many relationships are discovered that otherwise would have remained forgotten.