History, as the word was once understood, applied almost exclusively to the transactions of nations. Historical narrative was a panorama, wherein the details were lost in the general effect. As history has become less of an art and more of a science, there is an increasing tendency to dwell on local environment, and to amplify the intimate, personal relation of men to events. This is a significant truth. It shows that the advanced intelligence of mankind cannot rest content with the worn-out notion that any existent condition of affairs, any given state of civilization, is due to a few great men, and to a small number of important episodes. Just as the victories of war are won by the rank and file, rather than by the generals, so the triumphs of progress are gained by the many. As the family is the unit of the town, so the individual is the unit of the family. So widely are these considerations accepted, and so firmly have they become established, that a large share of the most careful current historic research is devoted to localities. Specialization of this character logically leads to emphasis on the influence of persons. Thus the boundary line between history and biography disappears, and the dry bones of facts are vitalized by human interest.
The purpose of the Memorial and Family History of Erie County, New York, is concisely expressed by its title. In the scheme of narration, the publishers have not circumscribed the plan of the work by any sharply defined limits. While the sketches of individuals are, it is hoped, terse enough to preserve the quality of readability, they are more than a mere statement of facts and dates. Living characterization has been kept in view, and it has been sought, in each instance, to grasp the salient traits of the subject and to show, in a clear light, the chief points of his career.
A special feature of these volumes, is the genealogical department, giving condensed accounts of ancestries, which have the uses but not the cumbersomeness, of works purely devoted to genealogy, and may serve as a basis for genealogical research. It is believed that, apart from the natural interest individuals have in preserving some reliable history of their families, these volumes may often be profitably consulted by the lawyer, the conserver of public records, the examiner of titles, the editor and the general business man.
Exceptional pains have been taken to ensure accuracy. Data have been compiled from original sources, by personal interviews, from manuscripts, correspondence and other authoritative records. In many instances broken links in the chain of ancestral descent have been supplied, and current errors rectified.
In its memorial feature the work embraces a more or less distinct department devoted to memorial sketches of men of the past. In commemorating the virtues of the departed who have lived honorable and useful lives, and in rendering honor to whom honor is due, we believe we are performing a public service and inculcating the most valuable lessons of veneration and good citizenship.
The illustrative feature not only comprises one of the most interesting and attractive departments of the work, but helps to a quicker and better comprehension of the history and personality of the subject portrayed. No similar work ever issued probably was more representative or possessed a higher artistic merit in its portrait feature. Such a collection of pictures, a large proportion of which are steel engravings, of the representative men of the locality, cannot help but prove of much interest and enduring value to the present and succeeding generations.