Thursday, December 15, 2011

You're Researching but Are You Reading?

At the start of her book The Family Tree Problem Solver, Marsha Hoffman Rising explains there are "two basic ways of conducting your family history quest: searching and researching."  She goes on to say that searching is more or less a quick path to information while researching is creating and testing theories and implementing a research strategy that will lead you to answers that simple searching can't provide.

You may be a beginning researcher or you may have over twenty years of experience.  If you don't learn the best methods for researching (so that you can get beyond searching) you will get stuck and spin your wheels.  It will still be fun, but you have a limited time, so why not make the most of it and accomplish as much as possible?

The best method for becoming a better researcher is to read.  Can you remember the first genealogical book you have ever read? If so, leave me a comment and tell me what it was.  If haven't ready any books on genealogy then it's time to head straight to the library.

The only way to become a better researcher is to read and learn from genealogical books.  For those of you who are saying you can learn from institutes and classes too, well, that's true. But those classes are going to make you read some books.

I would encourage to read actual books. I love genealogical magazines and journals but the real transformation in your research skills is going to happen reading books on methodology or specific topics such as ethnic research.

If you're a brand new researcher perhaps you want to check out Megan Smolenyak's Who Do You Think You Are?: The Essential Guide to Tracing Your Family History, A Companion to the NBC Series.  This is a fun, easy read that will give you a broad introduction to genealogy.

If you've been researching for awhile and you're doing mostly American research then you should definitely read The Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy (2nd Edition) by Val D. Greenwood. I'm reading this now and I learn something new in every chapter.

Then there are the books that all American researchers should read like Courthouse Research for Family Historians by Christine Rose, Locating Your Roots: Discover Your Ancestors Using Land Records by Patricia Law Hatcher or the Marsha Hoffman Rising book mentioned above.

No matter how much I think I know about doing genealogical research, these books prove to me that I have more to learn.  I typically have three books in progress all the time. Some books help me more than others but they all combine to make me a better researcher.

If you're doing genealogical research and you're not reading while conducting research then stop what you're doing.  Assess how successful your research has been and seek out some books to help you improve. Books are some of the simplest tools you can use to help your reach your goals.


  1. This post couldn't have come at a better time. I'm currently putting together a list of genealogy books I want to purchase for my personal library. While a couple of the ones you mentioned were already on my list, you've given me some new ones to consider.

  2. These are the book in my US Genealogical reference folder:

    Crash Course in Family History - Paul Larsen.pdf
    Elizabeth Powell Crowe - Genealogy Online 2011.pdf
    Finding Anyone, Anywhere, Anywhen - Noel Montgomery Elliot.pdf
    Genealogy Online for Dummies, 6th Ed - Matthew L Helm, April Leigh Helm.pdf
    How to do Everything Genealogy 2nd ed.pdf
    Troubleshooting Guide To Do-it-yourself Genealogy - W Daniel Quillen.pdf

    My US research is mainly online because, well, I'm on a different continent, and these books have helped me find my way.

    The old_occupations text file is just that: a text file listing old occupations.

  3. My first Genealogy book was "Genealogy as Pastime and Profession" by Donald Lines Jacobus
    I feel so blessed to have been introduced to genealogy by this great man. I Highly recommend this book if you can find it.

  4. I agree. Read a book!
    Pick a weekend and just say "I'm going to start this book and nobody is going to interrupt me".

  5. My blog contains a page entitled "Genealogy Books I Own" - I can't remember the very first one I read (probably one of the online genealogy books), but I do know the ones that I go back to again and again.

  6. I started family history research in the mid-1970s, so books were obviously an essential tool for learning in those pre-Internet days. If memory serves me correctly, the first genealogy book I read was "Compiling Your Family History" by Nancy Gray. It is now in its 22nd edition, published by the Society of Australian Genealogists. Of the various (paper) books that I've bought in the past couple of years, the one I use most often is "Google Your Family Tree" by Dan Lynch.

  7. All so true. Equally important is to read up on relevant social & economic history. You gain so much more by placing your subject in context & understanding their particular world. Different communities have their peculiarities & customs: miners, fishermen, shipwrights etc.

  8. All so true. Equally important is to read up on relevant social & economic history. You gain so much more by placing your subject in context & understanding their particular world. Different communities have their peculiarities & customs: miners, fishermen, shipwrights etc.

  9. I honestly can't remember the first genealogy book that I read, but I can say that I have a long list of books that I'd like to read! On my desk now are:

    Walking with Your Ancestors: A Genealogist's Guide to Using Maps and Geography (Kashuba)

    Social Networking for Genealogists (Smith)

    Forensic Genealogy (Fitzpatrick)

    The Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy (Greenwood)

    I recently read Genealogical Standards of Evidence (Merriman) and LOVED it. Can't say enough about it. I also love the state guides produced by NGS. They are worth far more than the small pricetag.

    Great post. I can't wait to read more of the comments!

  10. My first "general" genealogy book was Genealogy 101: How to Trace Your Family's History and Heritage by Barbara Renick. It was a great book to start with but it's a bit outdated now.

    The first genealogy book I bought was Your Guide to Cemetery Research by Sharon DeBartolo Carmack. This is still a book that I refer to from time to time.

  11. The first genealogy book I read was Greenwood's book. A re-read is in order now as I think I would get even more out of it now!

  12. I think Jacobus' book was the very first genealogy I read and I loved it.

    The first genealogy book I purchased was Ancestry's Guide to Research: Case Studies in American Genealogy by Johni Cerny & Arlene Eakle. I've read it over and over again and is one of my favorites.

  13. Totally good advice. I can't imagine doing family history research without reading. The year I started (1986), my Xmas and birthday books included both genealogical guides, and like Wornpick, social context books. I list some books on my blog but my personal genealogy library expands annually. What I'm reading ties in with what I'm researching...or kicks off another research direction.