Each person will have a different answer. To say, 'an interest in one's local town or area is, of course, true but it is really not enough. Other characteristics are vital. Here is one personal short list.
a) Humility. We all approach a subject with preconceived ideas. Research often shows these to be wrong and the good historian must admit that he/she must alter his/her viewpoint. This is not easy but historical facts are the signposts to good local history writing: to neglect or obscure them is a cardinal sin.
b) The ability to be tired or bored by one's research. Much research time is fruitless, either in doing field walking or sorting through documents in a record office: one may spend hours reading through or copying out old documents which throw no light on one's subject but knowing that somewhere there may be a sentence or name which provides an answer. This may be wearisome on the eyes and altogether frustrating and leads one to say, "Why do I bother?" Local history research is full of frustration but often the answer comes when it is least expected. When one reads a local history book or article one may be certain that the contents are but ten per cent of the information gathered for the purpose.
c) The necessity to master things which are completely new to one's experience. In rural parishes in particular it is obvious that the manor court of the local lord played an important part. To read the old court rolls without knowing what estreats were or what the jury did forces the researcher to consult the many books written on this subject. Then there is the script - 16th and 17th century court rolls and property deeds are often written in 'secretary hand', a script which, on first acquaintance, seems like a foreign language: eventually, constant battling with it and help from others will make it readable. The two obstacles above, if tackled resolutely, will lead to new skills. There are other obstacles, too, but all of them lead to the acquisition of new knowledge, which is part of the satisfaction that a local researcher will get from mining the rich seams of local history. Anyone new to the game will not find it easy!
Spring 1996 Index