Guide To One-Place Study Research

Pam Pic 2

A One-Place-Study (OPS) is unique and combines the local history of your chosen place whilst integrating the family history of the inhabitants through time. The study can focus on a building, street, hamlet, village, parish, town, or a wider geographical area. Some studies have even researched less obvious places such workhouses, graveyards, and schools.

Indeed, an OPS is anywhere a group of unrelated individuals gather.


The Harrison family, publican at the Coach and Horses



What draws you to a certain place?

  • Is it a family history connection?
  • Is there any significant history e.g. connections to the English Civil War?
  • Is there any unusual topography and how has it developed over time?
  • Was it mentioned in the Domesday Survey? Always a bonus!
  • Anything interesting such as links to landed gentry and a ‘big house?’


Getting started

Put your boots on and begin by simply walking around your area with a current map and imagine the paths trodden by previous inhabitants. Keep a look out for and locate any public footpaths, interesting old properties, datestones and mileposts. Existing street signs provide great clues to previous economic activity such as Mill Street or Tentergate Lane. 


Outside the Post Office, High Street, Rillington

Never miss the chance to talk with people who live there – oral history from personal testimony and reminiscence handed down through families who have made the area their home for generations are an invaluable source of information. Previously published local histories are an ideal starting point to get you acquainted with the local area– are they waiting to be discovered in the Local Studies collection of your reference library or archives.

If you live far away from your study then the following online resources may prove to be the best approach to get you started:


What to research

An OPS is your own project; an opportunity to pursue your personal interests and the beauty of it is – there are no rules! As with family history research, it is essential to record the sources and citations of any facts you choose to keep for the betterment of writing it up and maybe publishing at a later date. Here are some topics which may inspire the beginnings of an OPS.

  • Population(1) – examine census returns to establish if, why and when a population increased or Ask yourself what caused this? Why did people emigrate or immigrate? Where did they come from and where did they go to? Try to establish how big or small were their families. Who were their kin?
  • Population (2) – what were the trends in births, baptisms, marriages, deaths and burials? When was a popular month to marry? What was the average age of mortality? How many children died as infants? Did outside influences affect these changes such as war, pestilence or famine?
  • Care in the community – how were the poor and destitute cared for before and after 1834 The Poor Law Amendment Act? Was there evidence of outdoor relief or a workhouse? Street names such as Union Place give a clue to where the workhouse was situated. Who made the decisions as part of the vestry? Can you determine who were the churchwardens? Were there any Friendly Societies to help families in times of hardship before the NHS formed in 1946?
  • The ‘great and the good’ – who were the landowners and what was their status? Don’t forget, patterns of land ownership can be found in enclosure awards, wills and deeds. Heraldry is pictorial evidence of families resident for generations in a local area often found inside a church and on pub signs.
  • Occupations – what type of work did the people undertake and how did this alter over time? Did local and national events affect this change and why?
  • Religion – Look for and investigate the diversity within congregations using the 1851 Ecclesiastical Census Returns. Is there a Catholic church? Nonconformist chapels? A Quaker burial ground? Who were the ministers? Was there a Sunday School? Exploring the interior and exterior of the local Church of England together with its churchyard and memorial inscriptions is a must and one of the most pleasant activities on a warm, sunny day and some may argue even on a damp, dark day!
  • Education – Can you locate a dame school, a board or industrial school? At what age did children start work? Check for any log books, admission, and discharge registers.
  • Transport – how did life change after packhorse routes and toll roads were altered by inland navigation systems and the coming of the railway?
  • Crime & Punishment – who were the perpetrators and what crimes did they commit? How were they punished? Who were their victims? Determine if any were transported to America or Australia? Search the Assizes for serious crimes, Quarter Sessions for lesser crimes for calendars of prisoners.


Rillington, St Andrew

What to collect

  • Old maps – great for visual Consider ordnance survey maps, enclosure maps, and tithe apportionment maps. Linking them with the census returns 1841-1921, 1910 valuation survey and the 1945 farm survey can identify existing and demolished buildings.
  • Old postcards – are precious snapshots in time and have a dual purpose. They are records of change to building structure and usage and also what was important to people. Even better if you secure these complete with names, addresses, and messages as they highlight the way people communicated with their friends and family.
  • Old newspapers – digital subscriptions give access to accounts recorded first hand about events which took place in an area and give an idea of social interaction at a point in time.
  • Ephemera – depending on your storage at home; playbills, amateur dramatic productions, sporting trophies, shop signs etc can start an enviable personal archive to display at community events.


Rillington, Railway Station


Searching an online archive

Never forget that archives at local and national level have online catalogues which are fully searchable by name, place and topic. This valuable tool can be used to identify records connected with a one-place study. The archivist may also know of uncatalogued items which are waiting to be entered on the system.


How to record your research

Some of the larger data sets can be recorded using spread sheets or a relational database depending upon how the data is to be analysed and displayed.

The outcomes of migration, mortality and occupations can be recorded this way and then converted into graphs and charts. A narrative summary can be written around the evidence to produce a local history publication. The Victoria County History (VCH) Shorts are a series of parish and urban histories produced with the aim of inspiring readers to get involved, have a look.


Expanding your audience

Create fresh interest by hosting an event within your local community to explain what you’re up to and display some of your research and images. Invite past and present inhabitants to get together; people love to reminisce about how things were ‘back in the day.’ Encourage chatter and have some pre-written questions for people to fill in and encourage them to get in touch if they have any further memories.

Using social media, such as a dedicated Facebook page, could even start a virtual international community for those past inhabitants who’ve since moved away. Invite them to post their own memorabilia especially family photos. Their fond memories, stories and contributions may well fill the gaps between extant records as well as generating new surprises to further explore.



Consider working with others who share your interest. Forming a local history group brings a community together with more scope for a legacy. Think about who will take over the project in the future.

Enjoy your research!


Author: Pam Smith

Bio: Pam Smith is a retired professional genealogist who manages the One-Place Study of Rillington, North Yorkshire.


Twitter: @genejean


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