The subject of county histories (i.e. books devoted to recounting the history of the county) was already discussed in the section of this website titled, County Histories. That section is primarily concerned with providing a listing of any and all county history books published over the years. The sub-section, titled, Native Son Of Old~Bedford County Breaks With Tradition With Newest History Books, discusses some of the problems that a researcher might find when consulting those county histories. There is no reason to repeat that information here. But it is necessary to point out the concern that if you, as a serious researcher, do not question the ‘facts’ you read in any book (especially if those supposed ‘facts’ are not footnoted with information regarding their source), you run the risk of perpetuating incorrect information.
This is not to imply that all county histories contain incorrect information. The point to be made is simply that there are only so many sources and documented facts to be utilized by any writer of a county history. Sometimes the historian, in order to make his/her book more appealing than another’s, might embelish that finite set of actual facts with assumptions and suppositions without noting that he or she has done so. Or, the current historian might simply copy, albeit in paraphrased form, an earlier book’s information without taking the time and effort to verify the accuracy and correctness of that, now second-hand, information. Starting with J. Simpson Africa’s, the series of history books for Blair County, which were written after U.J. Jones’marvelous piece of historical fiction, tended to copy Jones’ information verbatim; the authors didn’t even go to the trouble of paraphrasing. In all fairness, Africa did make special note when Jones’ work was directly quoted. But the authors after Africa, by then quoting Africa’s work, simply perpetuated the questionable information.
Another point to be made is in regard to the biographical and genealogical information that is often included in county histories. In most cases, the information was supplied by the family being discussed. The only ‘proof’ of the information was that the family said it was so. If you asked a ‘serious’ researcher if he/she would accept a family’s information as absolutely factual, you would probably get a negative reply; but if you asked the same researcher if he/she would accept genealogical information found in a county history book as absolutely factual, you might receive a positive reply. The reason for this is because it is almost human nature to accept as factual any information that is in print without questioning it. The author of this volume spent many years attempting to locate the original record for his ancestor, William Proctor’s participation in Boquet’s Expedition against Fort Pitt. A book on the history of Somerset and Bedford Counties stated that William Proctor was indeed a participant in that French And Indian War expedition, but after many years of searching for the primary source of that information (e.g. a company roster or other first hand account), it can only be concluded that the author pulled the statement out of the air for ‘who knows what’ reason.
County histories have a lot to offer historians and genealogists, but in order to get the complete story about an event, a person or a place, you should consult as many different books as possible. Then you should compare all of the information to determine if there are any discrepancies. If you find any, then you should attempt to locate the original sources of the information. Only by doing that can you make a determination of what the actual truth of the matter is.
It is important, also, to know how the book was prepared. In regard to books, such as most of the biographical encyclopedias published in the late-1800s and early-1900s, the information was supplied directly by the biographee and inclusion in such books was dependent on a monetary payment by the biographee. The accuracy and validity of the information was, therefore, dependent on the submitter’s integrity and research capabilities. All information obtained from such books should be cross-checked with information found on primary, public records.