Local History

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Getting Started in Local History

By Franklin Sheneman


If you are interested in doing research on the 175 years of history of South Bend and St. Joseph County, there’s no better place to turn than the St. Joseph County Public Library! The Local History & Genealogy Room has a wealth of information to aid you in your research. From the novice historian to academic researchers there is something for everyone in our collection!

We have several books that give a variety of information on cities, towns and townships located within St. Joseph County. If you would like to start off with a quick overview of the area you might start with A Historic Background of South Bend and St. Joseph County in Northern Indiana. This 70-page book was originally published in 1927 by the local Schuyler Colfax Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. It chronicles the early history of the area when French fur traders first came to the area and discusses the individuals and events that helped shape the community.

For those who want a more comprehensive look at the county pick up a copy of either Timothy Howard’s or Chapman & Co.’s histories of St. Joseph County. The Chapman history was published in 1880 and the Howard history in 1907. While both are great research sources, Howard was written by a local resident and gives even greater detail on specifics such as early history, topography, county businesses, railroads, rivers, bridges, towns (both incorporated and unincorporated), and so much more! Perhaps the greatest aspects to Howard’s history are the remarkable biographical sketches of county residents, including many pioneer families that were the first settlers of St. Joseph County. Stunning photographic images accompany most of these profiles and make it a must-read for both historians and genealogists.


If you are interested specifically in the history of South Bend, take a look at South Bend and the Men Who Have Made It, compiled by Anderson and Cooley; Images of America: South Bend, Indiana, by Kay Marnon Danielson; South Bend: Crossroads of Commerce, by John Palmer; and the works of Jack Detzler: South Bend, 1900- 1910: The Awakening of a Small Town, South Bend, 1910 – 1920: A Decade Dedicated to Reform, and South Bend, 1920 – 1930: The Emergence of a City.

For information on Mishawaka, the “Princess City,” check out some of our books on the subject. Peter J. De Kever’s With Our Past: Essays on the History of Mishawaka and A Mishawaka Mosaic, edited by David Eisen, are both good sources on this topic.


If information on the agricultural and rural history of St. Joseph County is what you’re after, don’t miss the following titles: The History of Harris Township, by Germaine Goff; Now & Then: A Collection of Pictures and Stories about Lakeville, Indiana, by Jeanne Geyer; "Genesis" of North Liberty, by Rev. Gaylord Saltzgaber; and Images of America: Southern St. Joseph County, by Franklin N. Sheneman II. Geyer’s, Saltzgaber’s, and Sheneman’s books deal with the townships south of South Bend, including Greene, Union, Liberty, Lincoln, and Madison townships and the farming communities located therein.

For more detailed information on individuals and the land they owned turn to the historic atlases of 1875, 1895, 1911, and 1929. The 1875 Atlas can now be read and searched online from home--just click here to see it!. If you’re searching for individual homes or businesses go to our online database of historic Sanborn Fire Maps. You can use this database at home too.

And finally, be sure to come in to the library to look at our extensive collection of newspaper clippings covering events, people, business, and daily life.

Make history come alive by utilizing these unique resources today in the Local History & Genealogy Room of the St. Joseph County Public Library!

Helpful Hints for House Histories

By John Kovach

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Last updated by: Libby Feil, August 25, 2006

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