Monday, 3 August 2015

Find out what life was like in the place your ancestors lived

One-place studies are a great way of finding out what life was like in the place your ancestors lived. Nearly 2,000 places worldwide have been registered so far. Could your special place be next?
So what is a One-Place Study?
Quite simply it’s a study of a particular place and the people who have lived there over the years. 

By ‘place’ we mean a defined geographical area. Most one-placers choose to study a village, or very small town, and the area immediately around it within its official boundaries.

By ‘people’, we generally mean everyone who lived in that place, not just those related to the one-placer’s ancestral family or people who were famous.

A one-place study brings together both the local history and family history dimensions to give a much fuller picture of what life was like in that place and why families came and went.

Have you got what it takes to become a One-Placer?
We affectionately refer to those carrying out one-place studies as ‘One-Placers’. 

They are the unsung heroes of one-place studies. They work voluntarily behind the scenes, either alone or collaboratively as a group, seeking out all kinds of historic documents and maps etc., extracting information on anyone who lived in the study place and then presenting information in a structured way for the benefit of all.

Every place is unique, every one-placer is unique and, consequently, so too is every one-place study! One-placers are free to take their studies in whichever direction they wish, working at a pace they are comfortable with. 
One-Placers on the One-Place Study Register are entitled to use the logo above.

What has been done before?
Be sure to read up on what has been written in the past on the local history of your study place. Have any books been published? Or articles in county magazines? Check out the archives for your study place as they often hold historic local books. If there is a local history group, you may be able to work collaboratively and avoid any duplication of effort. In the UK, check out the Local History Online and British Association for Local History websites.

Pacing your place
If you live within easy travelling distance of your study area, and assuming it covers a small area comprising just a village and a few surrounding hamlets, rather than a whole region, it’s great if you are able to ‘pace your place’. Essentially this means exploring each street, lane, alleyway etc. of your study place looking at the buildings etc. for clues of their age, past uses etc. Try and put yourself in the shoes of those who walked there a century or two before! Read more here.
If you can’t visit your study place in person, you may be able to take a look around courtesy of Google Streetview or equivalent.

Maps & mapping your study
Maps can prove invaluable for one-placers. Be sure to look at historic maps for your study place, not just present-day maps. Compare maps from one time period to the next to see what has changed. 
In the example above, the 1830 map shows the site of a factory - in 1926 the factory had gone and there was a cricket ground with a pavilion - just looking at present-day maps would not have revealed either feature. Some websites allow you to look at digitized historic maps side by side or to overlay them. In particular check out these historic digitised map resources for England, Wales & Scotland and the United States.  
Many one-placers find it helpful to map their study. Below is a wonderful hand-drawn map of Upton Lovell in Wiltshire prepared around 2008. 
The treasures of this one-place study are clearly marked for the benefit of all. It is annotated with lots of helpful information. It shows the old post office, the old rectory, the site of the former cloth factory and even the site of the old electricity station. It tells us Ash Walk was known as Queen Street in the 1871 census. It also reveals where the market was held and where the animal pound was.  

Local knowledge
Be sure to tap into local knowledge - talk to as many long-time residents as you are able - you'll be surprised what stories they'll come out with once prompted! 
Involving members of the local community and others researching their ancestors from your place with your study can pay dividends. One memory may jog another, a photo found by one person may prompt another to search through their old albums and so on. Latch on to little snippets of information about your study place. There's often much truth in those old rumours!

Buildings and house histories
Some one-placers build up histories for each property. For example, one-placers Winslow History Group have compiled the history of many of their buildings and for 6 High Street have got a complete history from 1664 to the present day!

In Britain, just under 500,000 buildings are on the Statutory List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest. You can search for all such buildings in your study place on the British Listed Buildings site. The official listing entry shows further details about the construction of the building and its listing category. Alternatively search for English buildings through the Historic England site and Scottish buildings through the Historic Scotland site.

Population changes – pushes and pulls
At any point in time, a study place will have been populated by individuals - whether few or many in number. One-place studies consider all the people who have lived in the study place over the centuries. Families move into and out of the area for various reasons and there are periods when the total population increases and others when it falls.

A good starting point is to analyse the population statistics that are available for your place and to chart these. Histpop provides online access population reports for Britain and Ireland from 1801 to 1937 and allows you to ascertain the population of individual parishes etc. at ten year intervals from 1801 to 1931, to break this data down by gender, age etc. and to compare figures with county or national totals. Vision of Britain also holds some population data. 
The graphs pictured show the population changes for two adjacent Dorset villages, East Lulworth and West Lulworth. Although their populations were similar in the first half of the 19th century, subsequently one witnessed considerable growth and the other a steady decline. One-placers are keen to find out why individual families came and went and what were the major pushes and pulls.

Simple indexes, reconnection and reconstruction
Most one-placers, having researched their own family histories, will want to understand who is connected to who in their study place and to what extent families inter-married over successive generations.

Some one-placers find it helpful to create an index or database of all persons who lived in their place and to use this as the first step towards 'reconnecting' them to others on the list.

Some one-placers will go one-step further and 'reconstruct' trees for all families, sometimes as simple hand-drawn charts, or through providers like Ancestry or Findmypast where unrelated individuals can subsequently be linked as their relationships to one another are rediscovered.

Primary genealogical sources
Primary sources of family history information for one-placers are census returns that typically provide a ‘snapshot’ every ten years of everyone living in a defined geographical area and local registers that capture key events in their lives, in particular births/baptisms, marriages and deaths/burials. The earliest Church of England records date from 1538. 

Many one-placers use free sites such as FamilySearch or Mocavo or subscription sites such as Ancestry or Findmypast to view and save images of the original census schedules for all households in their one-place study area. This allows accurate transcripts to be prepared using local knowledge of surnames and place names and further analysis to be undertaken.

There are many secondary sources of information such as electoral rolls, gravestone inscriptions, land records, local directories, military records, newspaper obituaries, probate records, school records, wills, etc. We touch on just a few of these below.

Directories are a great source of information for one-place studies.  Most well- known among the directories are the Post Office Directories, Kelly’s Directories and Pigot Directories.

The 'street directory' sections, in particular, are a fantastic aid for one-placers as they show the householder or business at each street address in turn, as well as indicating where other roads joined, or features such as level crossings etc. existed. Check out the University of Leicester’s Historical Directories website for over 700 directories of England and Wales. And almost as many directories for Scotland can be accessed through the National Library of Scotland website.

Historic log books and admission registers for many schools are held at local record offices. The admission registers typically show birth date, admission year and name of a parent or guardian. Log books record some events in school life such as arrival of new teachers, low attendances due to illness or harvesting, and special commemorations. Findmypast currently offer access to over 4 million records from 28 counties in England and Wales covering the period 1870 to 1914, with further counties to be added in 2015.
Don't forget that class photographs were taken in many schools from around 1900 onwards, and coming across ones with names written on the reverse are a real boost! The photo shown was taken at Kingston School, Dorset in 1896.

Postcards and other images of your place
Do seek out old postcards of your study place. Some postcard views look much the same as another, but study them carefully and you may spot changes to buildings and uses, shop ownership and also fashions! Try online auction sites such as eBay and eBid and local postcard fairs. Storeslider is a handy tool for finding eBay auction items for your study place. TuckDB is a free online database of antique postcards published by Raphael Tuck & Sons.
Ancestry also offers access to postcards from Canada, France, Germany & Austria, Italy, the UK & Ireland and the United States. Also check for any Photochrom Prints of your study place on the PPLOC website.

Geograph is a freely accessible archive of much more recent photographs for every square kilometre of Great Britain and Ireland. All photographs are licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons Licence, so can be used for your website or blog. Great for one-placers who live a long way from their study place!

Never under-estimate the power of the newspapers! Historic newspapers can be a rich source of information for your study place. Before the days when celebrities and soaps dominated our daily tabloids, more everyday events often made their way into the local broadsheets. The detail included in some newspaper reports from the mid-19th century through to the early 20th century can be quite amazing. For example, some newspapers reported on the funerals of local people, and detailed everyone who attended, what hymns were sung, what messages of sympathy accompanied the floral tributes etc. Increasingly more and more newspapers are being digitized. Check out Chronicling America and Trove (Australia), or Elephind which searches both, plus the British Newspaper Archive (also available through Findmypast) and Welsh Newspapers Online. In the UK, many libraries offer free access to 19th century newspapers.


In the UK, the Heritage Lottery Fund want to support projects that help local people delve into the heritage of their community, bring people together, and increase their pride in the local area.  Grants from £3,000 upwards are available. A number of one-placers working collaboratively have been successful in securing funding, including Heaton History Group earlier this year for their "Heaton Beneath Our Feet" project.

Sharing information about your study is a great way of encouraging others to contribute too. You can do this in a number of ways including local displays, talks to local groups, features in local magazines, through dedicated websites and blogs and via social media such as twitter and facebook.
We are happy to share the progress of individual studies too - on twitter and through the ‘Study Snippets’ section of Newsworld.

The One-Place Study Register
It's important to register your one-place study. The One-Place Study Register now has 1,995 study places registered worldwide. Not only does it allow people to easily see that you are carrying out the study and to make contact, but it also helps protect against others subsequently 'muscling in' on your 'territory'.

One-Placers give of their time freely - in return we'll give them the benefits of registering free too!

Registering a one-place study with us is FREE and EASY - click here to add your one-place study now. 

New look
We are rolling out new look pages for each country on the Register. An example from our United States Register is shown below.  

One-Place Studies EXTRA
We are committed to bringing you the latest news and information from the world of one-place studies FREE - no membership fees - no registration fees. 

Take a look at our One-Place Studies EXTRA site for links to lots of great ResourcesFree Guides, our regular publication Newsworld, our special In Focus publication that shines the spotlight on individual studies, individual one-placers or aspects of one-place studies you may wish to explore further.

Sometimes we can get too focused on our own studies. By reading about other studies, we can look at our own from a different perspective, be inspired and inject new ideas.

Health warning: One study may lead to another!
One-place studies can be addictive! 17% of one-placers have two studies, 10% have three studies and 11% have four or more studies study on the go because they enjoy them so much!

Interested? Then email us now!

In this article we’ve only scratched the surface with some of the resources that are available. Be sure to visit our One-Place Studies EXTRA site for many more and check out our free One-Place Study guides such as The basics’ and ‘Choosing a place‘.


  1. Great article that I'm slipping for my own OPSs.

    1. Thanks Pauleen - it would be great if you join us - you can register for free at

  2. A very comprehensive account - and I intend to join on behalf of my local community heritage group - Auld Earlston in the Scottish Borders.

    1. It'll be great if you can join us Sue as we need more Scottish studies!

      You can register for free at


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World Wide Genealogy Team