May 7th, 2012

Back to Basics – Let’s Not Forget the Importance of Reference Books and Other Resources

The internet has definitely taken genealogy research to a new level – both in popularity and regarding ease of research. The wealth of online information is a blessing to genealogists, and constant gratitude should be given to the army of tireless and dedicated volunteers who transcribe and digitize historical documents. Never before has the pursuit of family history been so accessible to the general public, and many who may not have otherwise known how to go about tracing their ancestors are now bona fide genealogists. But there are many valuable offline resources that we should not overlook or forget about, especially reference books.

Reference books that focus on different record types or locations are some of the best resources at the disposal of genealogists. A good library of reference books can provide a sound foundation for your study of family history. You may decide to purchase one or two that may form crucial components of your own project, or your local library may have a copy. If you can’t find one that you’re interested in at your library, you can definitely recommend that they acquire it. Following are some of the reference books that I have found especially helpful to my own genealogical projects.

How to Do Everything: Genealogy, Second Edition

Written by George G. Morgan, this is one of my major go-to genealogy reference books. It contains excellent tutorials regarding individual record types, as well as records relevant to particular countries. If you want to know where to locate records and exactly what those records contain; this is the book for you. It covers not only traditional research, but electronic as well, and besides its in-depth analysis of record types it also covers the basics of genealogy, making it as equally useful to beginners as it is to serious genealogists. If I could have only one reference book, this would be it.

The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy (Third Edition)

If you’re researching ancestors in America, Loretto Szucs and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking have done an excellent job of putting this guide together. It is definitely the most comprehensive reference for every type of U.S. record and research methodologies. Detailed instructions (and when I say detailed I mean detailed) are provided regarding research of various record types, what can be found in them, and where and how to find and access them. More than thirty experts including professional genealogists, librarians, historians, and archivists assisted in its preparation. It is well written, easy to read, and thorough in explaining how to get the most out of any information you find.

Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources

Used in conjunction with The Source, the Red Book completes a formidable reference set for United States Genealogy. It stands on its own though, and is an excellent individual state reference source. Edited by Alice Eichholz, it provides historical background regarding each states formation, descriptions of the major record types of each state, when they were first created, and where they can be accessed. An outstanding feature of this publication is the county boundary maps and tables provided for each state, and contact information for the relative county repositories.

French-Canadian Sources: A Guide for Genealogists

Patricia Keeney Geyh and others have combined to put together this excellent source for those researching their Canadian ancestry. Experts in French-Canadian research have contributed to its publication, and the book covers the complete history of the French in Canada from 1605. It details the records that have been generated throughout the centuries by the French, British, and Canadian governments, and includes a comprehensive appendix of French words you may encounter while researching them.

Tracing Your Irish Ancestors: The Complete Guide, Third Edition

Got Irish Ancestors? I know I have, and this book has been especially helpful in helping me to locate them. I couldn’t have got started in the research of my Irish ancestry without this book. It provides a complete primer on how to begin your genealogical research in Ireland, and examines all of the major sources for tracing Irish ancestry, especially those that are quite unique to Ireland such as Griffith’s Valuation, and Tithe Applotment Books. Other records covered are; census reports, civil records, church records, wills, emigration papers, deeds, directories, registry sources and newspapers. Kudos to John Grenham for its production.

Ancestral Trails: The Complete Guide to British Genealogy and Family History, Second Edition

Mark D. Herber has compiled the most complete and extensive guide for tracing British ancestors. It comes highly recommended from the former Director of the Society of Genealogists, Anthony camp who has this to say about it: “No other publication gives such comprehensive and up-to-date guidance on tracing British ancestry and researching family history. Illustrated throughout with more than ninety examples of the major types of records, and with detailed lists of further reading, Ancestral Trails will be the essential companion and guide for all family historians.”

It is presented in an orderly fashion, is easy to read, and provides detailed descriptions of all of the major, and many obscure record types. What I found impressive was the attention given to beginning family historians, as basics such as pedigree chart development and construction are even provided.