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West Virginia State and Local History

A good starting point is our Researching West Virginia research guide. If you are able to visit, we have a large collection of state and local history materials in our main reading room.

Many of the multi-volume state histories provide extensive coverage of the history and genealogy of selected West Virginia families. The most comprehensive listing of published West Virginia local histories, state histories, and biographies, including books, pamphlets, and articles is:

Harold M. Forbes. West Virginia History: A Bibliography and Guide to Research. (Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 1981.)

This work includes bibliographies of each county and region as well as sources for many common topics and some unusual topics of interest to researchers, for example, Blennerhassett's Island, the Mason-Dixon Line, mound builders, the Hatfield-McCoy Feud, ghosts, folk music, the John Brown Raid on Harpers Ferry, churches and religion, basketball and football, the salt industry, springs that became resorts, and numerous other subjects. When using the card catalog or the online catalog (WorldCat) to search for any topic, construct subject searches according to the Library of Congress Subject Headings, which can be found in the WVRHC's main reading room. These volumes list the precise headings that are used in the Libraries' catalogs. When a term in these volumes is followed by (May Subd Geog), add --West Virginia to that subject heading in order to narrow the search to entries concerning West Virginia.

The best general surveys of West Virginia state history include those written by Charles H. Ambler, James Morton Callahan, Phil M. Conley, Oscar D. Lambert, Otis K. Rice, and John Alexander Williams. Many of the multi-volume state histories also include extensive coverage of local history, biography, and family history; notable works in this category include those by: Bernard L. Butcher (3 vols., 1912), Thomas C. Miller (3 vols., 1913), Sylvester Myers (2 vols., 1915), James Morton Callahan (3 vols., 1923), Morris P. Shawkey (5 vols., 1928), and Oscar D. Lambert (3 vols., 1958). These are significant sources for brief biographies and family histories of West Virginians of state and local prominence.

Of particular importance are the 51 volumes of the West Virginia Heritage Encyclopedia (Richwood, W. Va.: Jim Comstock, 1974-78). The first 25 volumes are a traditional encyclopedia of names, places, and topics presented alphabetically. Numerous entries in these first 25 volumes refer to the second 25 volumes, which contain fuller treatment of selected subjects and reprints of important works of West Virginia history. Volume 51 is an oversized "coffee-table book" of West Virginia pictures and portraits.

The published histories of West Virginia's communities, counties, and regions include historical, biographical, and genealogical data from the earliest settlements to the period immediately preceding the book's publication. Such local histories have been published in West Virginia since the 1870s. Citations to these histories are found in Forbes' West Virginia History and in the online catalog. For accessing these materials in either the card catalog or WorldCat, subject headings will appear in the following formats:

Brooke County

Jefferson County W Va

Kanawha County W Va--History

The following are useful sources for brief and methodical introductions to the history and geography of West Virginia's counties and regions:

E. Lee North. The 55 West Virginias: A Guide to the State's Counties. Revised edition. (Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 1998.)

Writers' Program. West Virginia. West Virginia, A Guide to the Mountain State. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1941. Reprinted: Richwood, W. Va., 1974; St. Clair Shores, Mich., 1974.)

Eminent West Virginia historians describe and examine the available historical resources concerning politics, education, economic history, labor, immigration and ethnicity, women's history, African Americans, and environmental issues in: West Virginia History: Critical Essays on the Literature. Edited by Ronald L. Lewis and John C. Hennen, Jr. (Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt Pub. Co., 1993.)