Saturday, 4 October 2014

A Baker's Dozen of Genealogy/Family History Books

A few from my list - you can find many of these at your local library!

Last month at this time I shared ten books (well I cheated a bit with some series books but hey, what is a bibliophile to do) that have had an impact on my life. I promised that I would be back this month and share ten books that have had an impact on my genealogy life (could not fit all that in the title - too long!). That might seem like a tall order, but I think I can handle it. So let's get sharing (if you have a book that has impacted you, please share it so we can all benefit!).

(1)  Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace by Elizabeth Shown Mills - this book is simply the best! If you want to understand how citations work and why they are important, look no further than Evidence Explained. Ms. Mills not only explains the reasoning behind various citations, she also shares examples of most every type of source citation. And if you read the beginning chapters and pay attention, you will be able to craft you own source citation for any work for which she did not provide an example. I am a huge fan of "watching/reading and learning" and Ms. Mills' writing is clear, concise, and gently nudges genealogists and family historians to reach for the next level. Every genealogist needs to own this book.

(2)  Professional Genealogy: A Manual for Researchers, Writers, Editors, Lecturers, and Librarians edited by Elizabeth Shown Mills - what can I say, this woman is on a roll! Whether you want to take your hobby, passion, or profession seriously and understand all the important business, financial, and ethical requirements or you simply want to understand how to make the best use of a genealogy professional, this is the book for you (put it right next to Evidence Explained). Professional Genealogy serves as the textbook for ProGen Study Groups. You will definitely wring everything out of this book if you join a ProGen group. Whether you join a ProGen group or go it alone, you need Professional Genealogy.

(3)  Destination America: The People and Cultures That Created a Nation by Chuck Wills - do you want to understand how all of the people who came to America shaped and added to our nation's rich tapestry of multiculturalism? This gorgeous book (spoiler alert - maps and lots of photos - you won't be able to put it down) was the basis of a PBS series by the same name put together by David Grubin. Destination America contains amazing stories of where immigrants came from and why they left their native lands, lovely photos and maps (oh yes maps!) and the chance to gain a better understanding of how our freedoms (freedom to worship, freedom from oppression, freedom from want, freedom from fear, and freedom to create) have been strengthened due to the efforts of all our people. Destination America introduces us to the original native Americans as well as most religious or ethnic groups that joined them here. As a country, we don't always get it right (and sometimes we get it very wrong) but we do aspire to be better. Destination America will remind you of what your own group(s) went through and help you appreciate the stories of other groups of your fellow Americans.

(4)  Our America: A Hispanic History of the United States by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto - American history is often taught through a prism of British history, but that is only a part of our story (think about the Native American population, as well as French, Russian, and Spanish interests). Our America serves as a reminder that the United States' history is just as much the story of Spanish colonization as any other group's colonization. Our America reminds us of the Southwest and West regions' rich history. Our Hispanic past is just as important as any discussion of the Pilgrims and the 13 colonies.

(5)  Geography and Genealogy: Locating Personal Pasts edited by Timothy Dallen and Jeanne Kay Guelke - this one is a bit hard to find (go to your college and university libraries) but is worth the trouble. Geography is such an important aspect in genealogy and it usually gets short shrift. I recently took several courses in cultural and physical geography and they opened my eyes to all the factors that affect people, culture, and place. Whether you want to understand the questions of why people settled where they did, how they lived, how natural and man-made barriers affected their lives, what migration patterns were and how they have changed over time, the push-pull factors of migration, and a host of other topics - the study of geography provides the answers. This book provides an introduction to the field of geography as it relates to genealogy. Combine Geography and Genealogy with a few classics like Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time by Dava Sorbel and Geography: Realms, Regions and Concepts by Harm J. De Blij and Peter O. Muller (the newest edition is available as a rental eBook!), as well as the very readable newer entries that combine history and just plain fun, including The Discoverers: A History of Man's Search to Know His World and Himself  by Daniel J. Boorstin and Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks by Ken Jennings - and you will see our world in a whole new light.

(6)  Tracing Your Irish Ancestors: the Complete Guide by John Grenham - this book is an excellent primer on Irish family history research. It is important to understand the history of a place, its physical layout and system of record-keeping and, of course, what is available (offline and online). For anyone serious about researching their Irish ancestors this is the book. Mr. Grenham has a number of other publications (in both book and CD-ROM format) that are also especially helpful - Clans and Families of Ireland, Grenham's Irish Surnames and Grenham's Irish Recordfinder. Combine Tracing Your Irish Ancestors with A New Genealogical Atlas of Ireland by Brian Mitchell and Irish Records: Sources for Family and Local History by James G. Ryan, and you will have your Irish research resources covered.

(7)  Finding a Place Called Home: A Guide to African-American Genealogy and Historical Identity by Dee Parmer Woodtor - for African-Americans researching their genealogy and family history and for all those wanting to understand the family history of African-Americans in our county, this is the book. An excellent resource to find out about how slavery (and the concept of people as property) affects our research from as early as 1790. Finding a Place Called Home is not only a genealogy resource but a fascinating history of a people through time - slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, WWI, WWII, the Civil Rights movement, and migration resulting from these events. African-American history is American history and African-American genealogy is American genealogy - it touches all of us and this book is an excellent introduction.

(8)  The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy by Loretto Dennis Szucs and The Red Book: American State County & Town Sources edited by Alice Eichholz are essential genealogy reference books, so much so that puts them front and center on their learning page (in front of their pay-wall - run don't walk there - okay use the magic of the internet!). If you want to figure out what records are available - whether on the Federal or local level, where those records are located in various State and County repositories, and how to get your hands (real or virtual) on them, these two books are the place to start. A note: researchers need to take the contact information and update it as more information becomes available online and datasets and office information change - but these books provide the history, the guideposts, and those all important breadcrumbs for further research. These books are at many libraries and sit happily alongside my copies of Evidence Explained and Professional Genealogy - they are that good and that useful.

(9)  Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America by David Hackett Fischer - a look at four waves of immigration to America: the Cavaliers to the Atlantic Southeast (Virginia), the Puritans to New England, the Quakers to Pennsylvania, and the Scots-Irish or Borderers to the Appalachians. This is an interesting book that speaks to English culture and its impact on populating the colonies in the 1629-1775 time-frame. I would encourage readers and researchers to take Mr. Fischer's conclusions and generalizations with a grain of salt - I don't think everything is so neat and tidy, but Albion's Seed does provide lots of information on the cultural and social history of these groups, together with references and suggestions for additional reading.

(10)  Organizing Your Family History Search: Efficient & Effective Ways to Gather and Protect Your Genealogical Research by Sharon DeBartolo Carmack - if you are anything like me you would like to know that you are on the right track and that you are approaching your genealogy and record-keeping in an efficient and effective manner. Simply put, genealogists want to know how to put all the information we gather together. Well Ms. Carmack does a fine job of helping us out in an easy to read and incorporate way. Sometimes you will nod your head (done that) and other times you will have an "aha moment." The best method of organizing our research and results is the method that we will actually use day in and day out. Check out Ms. Carmack's suggestions and get organized!

(11)  The Surnames Handbook: A Guide to Family Name Research in the 21st Century and DNA and Social Networking: A Guide to Genealogy in the Twenty-First Century both by Debbie Kennett - these areas of research are relatively new to most of us. Both DNA and Social Networking and The Surnames Handbook are well-written and contain a wealth of website links and resources to assist us in our studies. Ms. Kennett's clear and concise explanations of DNA studies (so much has changed since my university biology classes!) and social networking (how to best use all the tools at our disposal and not be overwhelmed by them) help genealogists and family historians understand how to make the best use of both. Ms. Kennett's guide to surname research is thorough and quite readable. Surname research, as a facet of family history, is expanding on a worldwide basis and Ms. Kennett's guide is an especially helpful introduction.

(12)  Seven Pillars of Wisdom - The Art of One-Name Studies edited by the Guild of One-Name Studies and Putting Your Ancestors in their Place: A Guide to One Place Studies by Janet Few - those of you who know me, know that I am working on a one-name (surname) study and a one-place (location) study. At some point I hope to encourage enough Keoughs to join the existing Keough-DNA study (but that is still a future thought). While our own family history and genealogy is interesting, I do think that putting those who share our surname or our place in context is a fascinating area of specialized family history research. The methodology and projects suggested in Seven Pillars and Putting Your Ancestors in Their Place are incredibly helpful to the family historian who wants to take her/his research further and connect it to the bigger picture or puzzle out possible connections.

(13)  A People's History of the United States: 1492-Present by Howard Zinn - what can I say - a history of the United States told from the viewpoint and in the words of the people who have made this country and who are not often heard from - the women, the Native Americans, the immigrants, the factory workers, the farmers, the laborers, and the working poor. This is not the history you learned in your unwieldy and cursory high school or college textbooks. This is not the history told by the establishment. Be sure to take Mr. Zinn's A People's History with a grain of salt, but also realize that history is written by the winners. It is important to understand our past and look at all sides of the story. Wear your critical thinking eyeglasses with this one, but it is just as important to not wear our rose-colored glasses while we read either.

(14)  And because I am a bit of a cheat (I am sure you have counted more than my baker's dozen here) EVERYTHING by Ken Burns & Company is, in my humble opinion, brilliant and shines a light on our American family history. We and our extended families exist in a time and place and our experiences affect other people and other countries as well as our own. Be sure to check out these books which serve as companions to the Ken Burns for PBS documentary films. Although the films are wonderful, these books include much more detail (no time constraints, unlike film productions), provide additional resources, and explore the American experience from a variety of events or topics, large and small. My choices include the following:
    • The Civil War: An Illustrated History by Geoffrey C. Ward, Ric Burns and Ken Burns
    • Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery by Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns
    • The National Parks: America's Best Idea by Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns
    • Jazz: A History of America's Music by Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns
    • The War: An Intimate History, 1941-1945 by Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns
    • Mark Twain: An Illustrated Biography by Geoffrey C. Ward, Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan
    • Not for Ourselves Alone: the Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony by Geoffrey C. Ward and Kenneth Burns
    • The Shakers: Hands to Work, Hearts to God by Amy Stechler Burns and ken Burns
    • Horatio's Drive: America's First Road Trip by Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns
    • The Roosevelts: An Intimate History by Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns
Books - Glorious Books! (image made with
Okay - there you have it! Did I miss anything that you think is a must read? You will notice that I have a bit of an American bent (hey I'm American), but I hope I have included enough varied topics and types of genealogy and family history books so that there is something you know and agree with and something that is new to you. Please share your choices of genealogy or family history books that have had an affect of you in the comments section. 

Cheers and Enjoy!


  1. Great Idea Tessa

    I don't know where you get the time or the inspiration


    John P laws

  2. Thank you Tessa for including my two books on your list. I shall look forward to checking out some of the other titles that you mention.


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