There are many useful and important books that will help you research your family history. The number can be overwhelming. The following are, in my opinion, five of the key books used most by researchers. You can often find them in the reference or circulating shelves of your public library. If the library does not have a copy of the book you would like to see, it can usually be requested by your library from anywhere in the country through interlibrary loan. The list at the end of this posting will give you full publishing information, as well as the call number for each book at the Newton Free Library.
The Researchers Guide to American Genealogy by Val D. Greenwood is considered the best overall “how to” book for genealogists. It’s first ten chapters explain the basic principles, practices, and tools of genealogical research. Looking through this section will help you avoid the frustration of time consuming errors common to people new to various aspects of this type of research. Each chapter in the second section is devoted to a specific type of record used by family historians to trace their ancestors. You will eventually be using far more than just birth, marriage, death, and census records.
Records are critical sources of information for tracking ancestors and finding links. Before you hunt for a specific record, ask yourself what you need to find out. What information are you looking for? When you’ve answered that question, take a look at The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy. The Source explains the type of information contained in each record. Consulting this work can keep you from wasting your time on a record that is unlikely to contain what you need. Most of the chapters in this work are based on a specific record and are written by an author who is an expert in using it. In each chapter you will find an extensive explanation of the record, why it was created, what it can be used for and the problems you may encounter while using it. They also have sections explaining the basics of genealogical research and searching for specific groups or by special locations. The eight appendixes at the end provide addtional tips and information.
The Red Book: American State, County and Town Sources look at records from a different angle, by where they are located. The book shows you where to find records: state by state, county by county, town by town. Records from various states will cover different dates, may include different information, be arranged in any number of ways, and may even be found in different locations. Probate records are a good example. The vast majority of states keep these records in the county court house. Rhode Island is an exception. It has been the responsibility of the cities and towns to keep these records since colonial times. Knowing this will not only save you time, but make it more likely that you will find the information you need.
The sole purpose of the International Vital Records Handbook is to help you locate vital records (birth, marriage, divorce, and death) state by state and country by country. It often gives you the forms you need to fill out. It will at least give you the addresses you need to write to and the cost of each record you request. It is a good idea to double check this information on the Internet once you have the name of the government agency responsible for the record. Pricing, addresses, and even the responsible agency can change. A note about obtaining records. In the United States, if you know the city or town where the records originated, it is a good idea to contact them directly. The records will not only be less expensive to obtain, but the staff, being local, may be more knowledgeable and helpful. Always be polite and appreciative. Remember, the records belong to them, not to you.
Finding your information (aka one piece of your puzzle) is not the end of your work. You need to keep track of where you found it. It’s known as citing your sources. There are several reasons for this. You may need to find it again yourself. It may help other researchers with their searches. We are a helpful bunch of people who share information. We help others. They help us. Citing a source also acts as proof that we indeed found the information in a particular place. But what information do you need to save?
What evidence do you need to prove a piece of information? How do you evaluate two pieces of evidence that contradict each other? This is where the fifth book in my list comes in.
Evidence Explained, by Elizabeth Shown Mills, shows you precisely how to cite the many types and varieties of evidence you will be finding. The book also shows you how many formats one type of information can be in. It gives you alternatives when you hit a proverbial brick wall in your research. And what about judging evidence? Reading the first section of the book will give you a solid background for analyzing your conflicting pieces of evidence. Miles states that “All evidence is not created equal” and shows you why. If you are looking at a census record, are you looking at the original record or at a printed transcription? It makes a difference.
These are, in my opinion, the first five books of genealogy. I will be covering may more separately in these posting and as lists under the tabs at the top of this blog. Happy hunting.
Book List with Publishing Information:
Greenwood, Val D. The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 2000. R 929.1 G85R
The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy. 3rd rev. ed. Edited by Loretto Dennis Szucs and Sandra Hargraves Luebking. Provo, UT: Ancestry, 2006. R 929.3 S72S
Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources. 3rd ed. Edited by Alice Eichholz. Provo, UT: Ancestry, 2004. R 292.107 R24E
Kemp, Thomas J. International Vital Records Handbook. 5th ed. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 2009. R 312.5 K32I
Mills, Elizabeth Shown. Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 2007. R 907.2 M62E