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Goodspeed Histories

The Goodspeed histories of Arkansas are a collection of six volumes originally published individually between 1889 and 1891 (as well as a seventh volume published in 1894) by the Goodspeed Publishing Company of Chicago, Illinois; Nashville, Tennessee; and St. Louis, Missouri. In an effort to “gather and preserve…the enormous fund of perishing occurrence,” each volume contains an extensive description of the existing historical record of the era, often supplemented with information obtained from local citizens and public officials. Although their style, content, and the method in which they were sold suggests that they were written to appeal to the general public, the Goodspeed histories are now recognized as a valuable tool for local historical and genealogical research.

The content within each book follows a standard format, beginning with a detailed description of various historical elements tailored to the specified region of the state described in the title. These topics include geology, archaeology, climate, discovery and settlement, government, politics, societies and institutions, laws and courts, and the late Civil War years. The latter chapters are devoted to the individual counties within the region and their particular historical record.

Each volume concludes with biographical and genealogical “sketches” of local citizens and officials within each county. The individuals who appear in these sketches were granted this distinction by purchasing a “subscription” in advance of the book’s publication. An “interview,” or questionnaire, conducted by the door-to-door salesmen who were soliciting sales throughout the region provided the family history data that was subsequently transcribed into an eloquent narrative about the resident and his family. In some cases, for an additional surcharge, individual portraiture was also included. The preface of each volume states that these “sketches” were submitted by mail to the “subscriber” for his final approval in advance of publication.

As a result, the histories are often described as “vanity” books, with researchers cautioned to verify the accuracy of the “sketches” due to the likelihood of incorrect or incomplete information supplied by the subscriber. However, this type of sales technique was a common practice during the latter part of the nineteenth century and early years of the twentieth century and does not appear to compromise the separate historical content too seriously.

The Arkansas-related volumes published by Goodspeed are as follows: Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Eastern Arkansas (1890), which covers Arkansas, Crittenden, Cross, Lee, Monroe, Phillips, Prairie, St. Francis, White, and Woodruff counties; Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Northeast Arkansas (1889), which covers Clay, Craighead, Fulton, Greene, Independence, Izard, Jackson, Lawrence, Mississippi, Poinsett, Randolph, and Sharp counties; Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Central Arkansas (1890), which covers Pulaski, Jefferson, Lonoke, Faulkner, Grant, Saline, Perry, Garland, and Hot Spring counties; Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Southern Arkansas (1890), which covers Ashley, Bradley, Calhoun, Chicot, Clark, Cleveland, Columbia, Dallas, Desha, Drew, Hempstead, Howard, Lafayette, Lincoln, Little River, Miller, Nevada, Ouachita, Pike, Sevier, and Union counties; History of Northwest Arkansas (1889), which covers Benton, Washington, Carroll, Madison, Crawford, Franklin, and Sebastian counties; and Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Western Arkansas (1891), which covers Johnson, Logan, Montgomery, Polk, Pope, Scott, Yell, and Conway counties and has a separate index for Conway County. In addition, Goodspeed published in 1894 A Reminiscent History of the Ozark Region, which contains some information on families living in the north-central Arkansas counties that were left out of other Goodspeed publications, covering Baxter, Boone, Cleburne, Fulton, Izard, Marion, Newton, Searcy, Stone, and Van Buren counties.

Thus far, there have been two published reprints (1978 and 2002) of the Goodspeed histories by Southern Historical Press of Greenville, South Carolina. Not only are these editions in a smaller format than the original publications, they also contain full name indices. While original print editions of the early publications are extremely rare and seldom available for public access in libraries or archives, four of the original volumes pertinent to Arkansas were scanned in 2009–2010 and are accessible through the Internet Archive. This project—completed in cooperation with the Library of Congress, Allen County (Indiana) Public Library Genealogy Center, and the Sloan Foundation—allows readers to access selected volumes for online viewing or download. As a result, researchers can view the volume’s content and any associated portraiture in its original typeface and format, with the added feature of searchable text.

For additional information:

“Guide to Using the Goodspeed’s Histories of Arkansas.” Arkansas History Commission. http://www.ark-ives.com/pdfs/Goodspeed.pdf (accessed June 9, 2010).

Internet Archive. http://www.archive.org/ (accessed June 9, 2010).

Toney Butler Schlesinger
Granite Bay, California

Last Updated 12/31/2010

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