Communities have histories of their own that provide a backdrop to our ancestors’ lives. I shall use other letters of the alphabet to explain why I think that it is essential for a serious family historian to examine the locations in which their ancestors found themselves. For now, I want to concentrate on the benefits of studying the past to the communities of the present.
The history and heritage of communities, localities, places – what ever term you wish to choose are popular fields of study for individuals and groups. My own village formed a history group 7 months ago. Our website includes a ‘Tomorrow’s History’ section that details current happenings in the parish. In that short seven months we have reported the erosion of many community facilities. We have lost our football club, our milk round, our butcher’s shop and our mobile library service has been reduced. We live in time when services are being depleted. Those of us who live in rural communities have neighbours who are working elsewhere, being educated elsewhere and whose recreational facilities are often also in the nearest town.
How can history and heritage groups help? To begin with there is a suggestion that flourishing heritage groups help to boost tourism. Not only are they an attraction for those hunting ancestors but heritage trails and exhibitions provide activities for those visiting the area. More to the point, an investigation of and engagement in a community’s past can help to create a sense of belonging in the present. If those of us who study local history can share it with others, or better still involve others in its recreation, we help to create a sense of belonging and provide a focus for a common identity.
Local history groups should encourage the wider community to engage with their shared past in order to provide a focus for unity in the present.