What Reference Books Should I Own?” by George G. Morgan

I wrote a column for the Ancestry Daily News a number of years ago that enumerated my ten favorite genealogy books, some genealogy reference CD-ROMs, and my favorite websites. One of the readers of the Ancestry Weekly Journal wrote to Juliana and asked for an article about what specific genealogy research books, common to both beginners and advanced researchers, would be recommended for every serious researcher to have in his or her library.

This is a difficult challenge for several reasons. First, it is a subjective matter and depends on what geographical area an individual is researching. Second, a list that is too “generic” risks losing people’s interest. Finally, the fact is that books are an expensive commodity and not everyone can afford to buy every title they would like to have.

However, there certainly is a core collection of books that every genealogist would find helpful to have close at hand as reference materials for their research. I’ll accept the challenge with the understanding that your list and my list may or may not be the same, and that some of the books may not be applicable to your research. However, it makes sense for each of us to consider a personal genealogical reference library that includes books from each of the categories below.

Basic Reference Works
I recommend that you have some basic reference works within reach at all times. These include:

  • a collegiate dictionary and thesaurus;
  • a contemporary atlas of the U.S. and Canada, and either a detailed atlas or folding sheet map of countries and/or regions where you are researching;
  • a historical map or atlas going back as far as possible (check garage sales, flea markets, and used book stores);
  • a good world history;
  • a gazetteer (place name dictionary) for the place(s) where you are researching; and
  • Elizabeth Shown Mills’s Evidence! Citation and Analysis for the Family Historian. 
     (Her newest book, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace,  made its debut at the Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference this year.)

A very fine atlas and gazetteer is Philip’s World Atlas & Gazetteer, published by the Royal Geographical Society and available at online booksellers’ sites.

“How-To” and Reference Books
Your core personal genealogy collection should contain books that are comprehensive on a number of topics. Let us assume that we are starting our search in the United States and then branching out to other countries and regions. The best of these books are these.

  • The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy (3rd edition), edited by Loretto Dennis Szucs and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking, covers virtually everything that any genealogist would want to know about U.S. research, including record types, methodologies, repositories, and so much more.
  • Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources (3rd edition), edited by Alice Eichholz, provides state-by-state historical information, detailed descriptions of record types and where to find them, a table for each county of every state with its courthouse address, its origin and date, and dates of the oldest record types to be found there.
  • How to Do Everything with Your Genealogy, by George G. Morgan, covers every aspect of genealogical research for beginners to advanced, with record types in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and Australia described, illustrated, and explained. Computer resources and Internet research are also explained.

Computer and Internet Books
We all know that the Internet is an exceptionally dynamic resource; it changes daily, if not hourly. However, some essential books for computer users and for those who rely on the Internet for research help should be considered for your core collection.

  • Your genealogy software manual should be an essential component in your genealogy library. If you looked at it when you opened the box, turned up your nose, and tossed it into a closet, think again. The user manual should be read and practiced one chapter at a time, and then referred to as needed. Remember, not all built-in help is as thorough as the manual.
  • The Official Guide to RootsWeb.com, by Myra Vanderpool Gormley, CG, and Tana Pedersen Lord, is a brand new book, published by Ancestry Publishing. It provides an in-depth tour of the world’s largest, free genealogy website. There is no one who knows the content and potential of RootsWeb more than Myra. She has been a working member and guiding force in the development of the site for many years and is the perfect guide for helping all genealogists unlock the potential in RootsWeb.
  • The Official Guide to Ancestry.com, by George G. Morgan, is another brand new book by Ancestry Publishing. If you are a subscriber to Ancestry.com, there are now more than 24,000 databases online for you to search-– and searching the databases takes skill and patience. The personalized My Ancestry and Ancestry Community are powerful facilities to be worked with in tandem with all the other research you do. Learn how to really use Ancestry.com effectively and successfully.

Record-Type-Specific Books
As you become more deeply involved with different record types, there are some which are of extensive detail or particular complexity that really require their own reference books.

International Reference Books
There are so many, many excellent books concerning research in other geographical locations that it is impossible to begin to enumerate them. You will have to conduct some research on your own to locate the best one(s) for your personal library, especially for the countries and time periods you are researching.

Your list and my list will, of course, differ. I realize, too, that it is impossible to buy all these books at once. However, I recommend searching used booksellers’ sites on the Internet, eBay, and even perusing the used books at Amazon.com. You never know what bargains you can find!

Happy Hunting!

Click here for a printer friendly view of this article.

George G. Morgan is the best-selling author of “The Official Guide to Ancestry.com” and “How to Do Everything with Your Genealogy.” George and Drew Smith produce The Genealogy Guys Podcast each week at . George is also now teaching online genealogical workshops for Pharos Tutors and for the Continuing Education Division of the University of South Florida in Tampa. Visit his company’s website at AhaSeminars.com to view his schedule of upcoming conference events.

1 thought on “What Reference Books Should I Own?” by George G. Morgan

  1. For those with access to a public library and in particular a genealogical library, some of the listed books or some like them are available through the libraries.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *