Whether researching your family history or a specific area for a novel setting, the USGenNet group of webpages is a great resource. Quoting from their site at http://www.usgennet.org/ “USGenNet is the first and only nonprofit historical-genealogical web hosting service on the Internet.” Many states, county and local genealogical and/or historical groups have websites using this hosting service. When you go to one of these websites, such as the one for Dickson County, Tennessee, you will find a wealth of information about the area. There are family histories, obituaries, maps, cemetary information, newspapers, pictures, etc. Links to other sites of interest, like state archives, are often provided.
Keep in mind that these are websites maintained by individuals so the exact information posted and how often the information is updated depends on the individuals maintaining the site. Some allow contributors to submit items to be posted on the site. Most rely on volunteers to keep the sites going.
I have spent hours exploring the TNGenWeb site – since Tennessee is my home state. The County Pages offers easy access to every county that has an individual site and offers additional information about each county. It includes a clickable map of the counties which is very helpful if you need to research a region but you aren’t sure which counties to search. And if you are looking at a county, like my home county (Houston), which was formed from sections of several different counties, you can dig deeper by going to those original counties. Another map evolves over time with the creation of the counties starting before statehood when Tennessee was a part of North Carolina. It even includes the State of Franklin, the first attempt at adding a new state to the original thirteen states. The State of Franklin is another whole topic for a later day – but a very interesting episode in the history of our country. My adopted home state of Florida‘s site includes lots of information that I have only just begun to explore.
Although I started using these pages for genealogy research, I found some truly fascinating stories. For a historical novelist, the details provide not only story ideas but authentic background, events, dates, and locations.