Tuesday, October 6, 2009

In Praise of Local Historians

Recently, I have given thought again to the importance of newspapers in researching the Civil War in the Trans-Mississippi. This jogged my memory about a person that I met last year. In May 2008 I had the great pleasure of bicycling the entire length of the Katy Trail State Park in Missouri—all 225 miles of it from Clinton to St. Charles, Missouri. Much of the ride was along the Missouri River. On the eve of the war this part of Missouri had a high concentration of slaves and the secession movement was quite popular. On my bike ride I met a number of interesting people including Augusta’s town historian, Dr. Anita M. Mallinckrodt. Augusta, a German community just a few miles from St. Charles, was a river town during the war and Unionist in its sympathies. In a labor of love, Dr. Mallinckrodt has read the German language newspaper, the St. Charles Democrat, and translated excerpts into English that deal with Augusta, the surrounding area, and important events of the time period. She has assembled approximately three volumes (each one covering a different time period) of excerpts from the St. Charles Democrat. The volume covering the Civil War era features newspaper articles about the St. Charles County Union Guard, military events in the area, elections, agriculture, emancipation, prices, runaway slaves, and Reconstruction. There are certainly many local historians in the Trans-Mississippi; it seems as though every community, no matter its size, has a town historian. Unfortunately it can be a bit difficult sometimes to even know about their work. Still the wealth of data collected and often published by local historians is remarkable—as a professional historian I admire their dedication to their labors of love.


  1. I would add a note of praise for local genealogists, especially those who support active and thorough county genweb pages. Local historians, including professional historians doing micro histories, and genealogists are first cousins, if not fraternal twins sometimes. With the help of the resources that genealogists post and publish, we can trace the impact of family and neighborhood relationships and politics as they impact local and regional developments and events. I tracked a particular company in the 11th Texas Infantry (I think, it's been a while...) prior, during and after the Civil War, and was amazed at how interlocked the members were by family, marriage, business, church, and lodge relationships in a small now abandoned community in Smith County, Texas. That would have been almost impossible without both local historians and local genealogists.

    Vicki Betts

  2. How true!! When I did my study of the 28th Texas Cavalry, I attempted to locate each soldier in the census as well as Texas tax roll records. Believe me, I was grateful that someone had developed a census index although I soon discovered that family members and neighbors often served together. Genealogists were particularly helpful when I edited the correspondence of Theophilus and Harriet Perry. They were distant cousins, and they made frequent references to family members. Untangling these connections would have been frustrating and time consuming without the help of genealogists. Professional historians have many helpers, and I am certainly grateful for the assistance.