Local History in Livingston County

The local history internship that I participated in this summer was a great experience for me. I went into this internship not really knowing what to expect, although I knew that I really enjoyed learning about local history thanks to a research project I had already completed that focused on Geneseo during the Great Depression. When Dr. Michael Oberg told me about the opportunity to do a local history internship over the summer through the Geneseo Center for Local and Municipal History, my first thought was that this was too good to be true. I needed to take an upper-level history class during the summer, and an internship sounded like the most interesting and fulfilling way for me to do that. I was not really aware before then that Livingston County had an official Historian’s Office, but that is where I undertook my internship.

When I started this internship, I thought that I would spend my time working by myself and without much additional instruction. That was not the case. It was really nice to learn what the county historian does on a day-to-day basis. I learned about the history of Livingston County, as I had anticipated, but also so much more about careers in local history as well as many technical skills. For instance, I had to be familiar with Excel to work on the records for the County Poor House project.

Like most people of my generation, I did not have to focus on learning cursive in school, and I never really thought that this would matter all that much to me. Over the summer, though, reading and using historical documents every day at the Historian’s office, I had to get much better at reading it!

The Livingston County Home, formerly known as the Poor House, as it looked in 1951.

If I had only known what a great resource the Historian’s Office is, it would have greatly helped me while I was exploring Geneseo’s history for my research project last semester. As an education major, I am always thinking about how I can relate experiences like this to my future career, and I think this summer internship was very insightful for me. If I get a teaching job in the local area, I intend to plan field trips to many of the historical societies in the area and use information from them to create meaningful lessons about local history. I think that knowing what resources are out there is very important for a teacher, particularly a future elementary school teacher like me.

The internship at the County Historian’s office also allowed me a lot of flexibility and freedom. I worked on several different projects during the summer, including small side projects. For instance, I traveled to historical societies and museums in the area and documented the paintings that they had. This information was then used to apply for a grant to get Livingston County’s historic art pieces appraised and repaired. This project was especially interesting because I was going to so many different places and learning about the unique history of each town.

Another small project that I worked on one day was researching the first car bought by the Sheriff’s office. I really loved this because it felt very hands-on and important, since they wanted the information for the upcoming county bicentennial celebration. (Also, I love old cars!) This was a very satisfying project.

Detail from a 1902 map showing central Livingston County.

The Livingston County Historian’s Office is also just a pleasant place to work. I enjoyed being able to have so many books and binders of documents on the shelves around me, and to just pick one off the shelf and read through it when I became intrigued on a topic.

I knew that my experience would be different during this internship because I am an Education major and so I don’t plan on going into local or public history as a career. But I loved doing this internship and I think I learned a lot of valuable information and gained real skills. There is a lot to learn and this is a unique way for a student from any major to get practical experience working with local history.

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