The exploration into our history is a growing phenomenon, a result of our need to keep ourselves grounded to a deeper sense of self while the world changes around us. It is a result of our fast-paced, ever evolving society so unlike the world our ancestors lived within. Right?

Well...not exactly.

It appears our ancestors living in the late 1880's faced significant cultural and economic changes--maybe even more than today. The young United States rapidly expanded into the West and new industries evolved and adapted as our gangly youthful country approached the 20th century. And our ancestors reacted as many of us do today: they attempted to hold-on to their roots. They romanticized the past, the "good old days," and they longed for a sense of community.

The Goodspeed Publishing Company of Chicago, Nashville and St. Louis keenly recognized people's sentimentality for their community and a need to feel pride in their roots, so the publishing company turned what they saw into an opportunity. They dispersed door-to-door salesmen across the Midwest, Southwest and South, compiling information for published county histories.

If you have researched ancestors within Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri, Indiana, Texas, Nebraska and Kansas, then you have no doubt run across a Goodspeed County History.

The Goodspeed publications are written in the same format for each region--historical elements tailored to the specific region with information on geology, climate, settlement, government, politics, institutions, etc. and they end in biographical and genealogical sketches of local citizens specific for each county. But if you do not find your ancestor within a Goodspeed book it was most likely because he could not afford to pay for the rights to be in the publication.

That's right. The citizens featured within the publications bought the right to see their name and family history in print. They paid the Goodspeed salesmen for a copy of the publication and in turn, they wrote their own personal sketch or a family member's sketch to be highlighted within the book. It was an opportunity to paint themselves and family in a good light.

But even though the Goodspeed county histories can be rightly criticized as "vanity books," they are a valuable tool for today's family historian . They provide historical information for your ancestor's county along with biographical information that can lead to deeper discoveries.

Our ancestors relished their family histories just as much as we do today, so much so they were willing to pay for it.

And thank goodness for that.

Check out these sites for a few Goodspeed county histories: Grainger County, Tennessee; Southeast Missouri; Genealinks; Tennessee State Library;  The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History.

Keep searching for answers,

(Source: The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture.)


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