It they wrote it, why don’t all genealogists read it? Helping ourselves.

IBooks love it when a author updates a genealogy “how to” book. That author knows that we can’t sit still and ignore all the changes going on in the world of family history research. Yet, some of the guides that have been around for a while are still vital. [See a selected list later in this post.]

Daily questions and comments on message boards, Facebook pages, and other places show that many people have not yet discovered the print materials that could help solve their research problems. I love all the online indexes, databases, and digitized records. I love all the digitized and searchable newspapers. I even love many of the online family trees for their clues to more research. Then there is much of my own family.

Yes, they appear in many of these online resources. Yes, they still need to be researched in records and indexes not yet online. Yes, they still draw me to libraries, archives, courthouses, and other places for zillions of records not yet online. How do I know that all these other places and records exist? That’s an easy answer.

I read and attend. Sounds simple? It actually is.

  • Have you attended meetings, classes, and seminars that are held by a genealogical society near where you live?
  • Do you have a membership in that society and also in others that exist in places where your family lived in the past?
  • Do you read the newsletters, quarterly magazines, websites, and blogs of all these societies? These contain extensive information on research, records, and places to look.
  • Is there a library (genealogy or public) that has genealogy guidebooks, newsletters, and more that you can read while sitting there? Some even have duplicates of guidebooks that you can check out.
  • Have you looked at the websites, online catalogs, and other finding aids of courthouses, archives, libraries, and historical societies in all the places where your family ever resided? If not, be ready to drool at all the resources that are at those places.
  • Do you know where to find newspaper obituaries or funeral notices when the likely newspaper is not yet digitized?
  • Do you need to expand your knowledge? What about the conferences held by FGS, NGS, SCGS, MGS, OHS and other organizations? What about institutes, online courses, and individual consultations with a professional genealogist to get you focused on what to do next and where to do that? Do you know about GRIP, SLIG, Ancestry Academy, IGHR and other learning opportunities?
  • Don’t know what all those letters stand for? Ah, time to read to learn more.

Why do this reading and attending? You will learn more about records that exist all around us that contain fantastic family history information. You will learn more about visiting a courthouse and the types of records that are still there. You will learn more about the county and state records that are housed in the state archives of your ancestral states. You will learn more about when birth, death, and marriage records began in your ancestral localities and where to find them today. You will learn more about analyzing a record to grab every bit of information.  That may lead you to something else that will finally tell you when Great Grandfather William Slaker was born and where.

None of us ever stops learning more about the resources, analyzing, or methodology that keeps us informed and better able to find more of those elusive family names, dates, places, and stories.

Don’t shortchange yourself. Don’t say that you can’t find anything and you have been searching for two years. Instead ask yourself if you have done your reading and learning so that you know where you need to check next.

The following list is just some selected family history guidebooks to get us started or to refresh our knowledge. Now, please excuse me while I reread  a chapter in one of these books.

1.    Croom, Emily Anne. Unpuzzling Your Past. 4th Ed. “Expanded, Updated and Revised.” Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2010.

2.    Eichholz, Alice, ed. Ancestry’s Red Book: American State, County and Town Sources. 3d ed. Provo, UT: Ancestry Publishing, 2004 [Overview guide to all of the states. [Online edition is part of Ancestry’s free Wiki <>.]

3.    Greenwood, Val D. The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy. 3d ed. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2000. [Not updated in a while but full of specific information written by a genealogist who is also a lawyer.]

4.    Morgan, George. How to Do Everything Genealogy. 4th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2015.

5.    Rose, Christine. Courthouse Research for Family Historians: Your Guide to Genealogical Treasures. San Jose, CA: CR Publications, 2004. Also by Rose and essential for understanding the many types of indexes: Courthouse Indexes Illustrated, 2006)

6.    Rose, Christine and Kay Ingalls. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Genealogy. 3d ed. New York: Alpha Books, 2012.

7.    Szucs, Loretto Dennis and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking. The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy. 3d. ed. Provo, UT: Ancestry, 2006. [An online edition is part of Ancestry’s free Wiki .]

p.s. No one ever said that our family history research was going to be quick, easy, or cost-free.

© 2015, Paula Stuart-Warren. All rights reserved.

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5 comments on “It they wrote it, why don’t all genealogists read it? Helping ourselves.

  1. Hi Paula,
    I could hear your voice as I was reading your post. I learned so much in your class at GRIP in Michigan last summer. I’m working on the NC ROOTS MOOC and I am viewing weekly webinars. Yes, it all helps develop a strong genealogical foundation.

  2. A small part of the problem, of course, is that the printed materials can be just as hard to find as the records they talk about. We happen to have an extensive genealogy collection in one branch of our county-wide system, but only because my society (one of several in the county) donates the books. Our one large city library has an entire floor of genealogical materials, but nobody in his right mind wants to drive there, pay for parking, and then negotiate the hills to get to the library (fortunately for me, the bus from my suburb stops at the corner — but to catch the bus home I have to go down three blocks of steep hill, and I (temporarily, I hope) use a walker so right now it ain’t gonna happen!).

    Another small part of the problem is that so many of the books haven’t been updated, so you have to wonder how useful they still are. I always check the copyright date and something last published in 1995, for example, is subject to critical review before I buy or borrow it. Many of them are still good, even if they’re not up to date; others are so useless they might as well be used for kindling.

    On the whole, though, the problem is as you said (and can be boiled down to a combination of ignorance and laziness; how much of which varies with the individual). There will be the occasional case of “unableness” (genealogy books generally are not inexpensive and someone who’s housebound might have trouble obtaining them), but it’s largely just a matter of people becoming aware of these materials.

  3. You certainly nailed that on the head. It is interesting how many people are satisfied with an unsourced genealogy, because they don’t want to look any farther. Having been blessed with the book collection of a friend who was retiring from doing genealogy work, it is great to have so many of these books at my disposal. It is wonderful to pick up a book and read the words of wisdom from so many of our collegues past and present.

    1. Sue,
      You nailed it yourself by saying “It is wonderful to pick up a book and read the words of wisdom from so many of our collegues past and present.” None of us knows everything and we don’t need to reinvent the wheel at each turn of our research.

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