Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Where Do You Turn For Research Guidance?

Inevitably at some point in your genealogy research you will encounter a new ancestor in a new location. This makes you stop dead in your tracks in order to figure out what to do. A new geographic location can mean learning new geography, new ethnic groups, new names for records and a whole different set of rules about record availability. Encountering a new ancestor in a new location can be both a wonderful adventure and a real headache.

First Line of Help

When I am trying to understand a new location I typically turn to Ancestry's Red Book: American State , County & Town Sources (Ancestry, 2004) . Red Book is organized geographically by state with further information about counties and towns. Within each state is an overview of all the major record groups and where to find them. While I tend to reach for my book which sits next to my desk, Red Book is also available online for free on the Wiki.

Another resource I am starting to turn to more frequently is the FamilySearch Wiki. Not so long ago FamilySearch used to offer research guidance on numerous locations in the form of printed guides or online pdfs. Those have been replaced with a sleek new wiki which allows users to find everything online. The FamilySearch Wiki is volunteer driven, though, so you might not find complete information on every location you are researching.  The advantage to this compared to Red Book is that it is international. For more information, read a guest post about FamilySearch Wiki which I wrote for Legacy.

Some of you may still be holding on to a copy of Everton's Handy Book. I don't believe it is being published anymore but you can still find copies around. It is very similar to Ancestry's Red Book in that it provides information about American genealogical records in a geographic based format.

Where Do You Turn for Information?

What I want to know, and the real reason I wrote this post, is where do you get your information when first encountering an unfamiliar geographic area? Do you use sources that I haven't listed here? I'm am wondering if I have overlooked some good reference books or sites.

Also, I really want to know about Canada, the UK, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Do they have anything comparable to Ancestry's Red Book?  Where do genealogists outside the United States turn for information?  I look forward to hearing your responses.

Photo Credit: Photo by CCAC North Library in Pittsburgh, PA and is used on the creative commons license.


  1. I often use the Research Guidance (RG) feature in Legacy - especially for my foreign research. My gg grandfather was born in Denmark and came to America. RG gives me the list and clickable links to the Denmark databases as well as the suggestions, repositories, and links that would apply to him in American records.

  2. Cyndi's List for online resources.

  3. Carol, I would consider Cyndi's List a good resource for reference material but not a guidance resource in itself because it's not providing the information just pointing to where you can get information. I'm looking for resources that will actually provide specific guidance. I'm still on my quest to find more!

  4. I find myself more often using Family Tree Magazine's - "The Family Tree Sourcebook". I find it an updated version of the "Red Book". (Which is still on my shelf...) I also use the FamilySearch Wiki more every day.

  5. Thanks Glitz! I didn't know about the Family Tree Sourcebook. I'm going to have to check that out.

  6. For the US, I often turn to USGenWeb. Sometimes it has the best local information (and sometimes it has nothing...). But I always check.

  7. Most of my research has been in the colonial era. I use Christina K. Schaefer, Genealogical Encyclopeda of the Colonial Americas ... Genealogical Publishing Company, Inc., second printing, 2000. For the 13 colonies plus Maine and Vermont, each chapter starts with state-wide resources, then county, then town. There is less for other states that had some settlement before the revolution. Your library may have a copy you can look at.

    I am lucky to live near a large genealogical library that is organized by the Library of Congress system. I just find where a particular state is located then start at the beginning and walk the stacks and see what's there. Under LOC, the statewide books come first, then the books for each county alphabetical by county, then the books for the towns alphabetical by town.

    For England, a very useful resource is the Phillimore Atlas and Index of Parish Registers. This shows maps of each county with outlines of each parish and a table of years covered by the records. There is also on the maps an indication of which probate jurisdiction handles which area.

    1. Marian - I second this recommendation about the "Genealogical Encyclopedia". Look this one over, it's pretty cool - MANY entries come with FHL film numbers.

  8. I too use USGenWeb to see if they have anything. If not, I search for local historical or genealogical societies to see if they have a website. I've called members to see what sources they have locally and then plan trips to visit. Since I haven't heard of either source you mentioned, I'm off to discover what I've been missing.

  9. I would second The Family Tree Resource Book, and then there are references that are broken down first by subject but often have secondary divisions into geographic areas: Lou Szucs' The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy, Kory Meyerink's Printed Sources: A Guide to Published Genealogical Records, Emily Croom's The Genealogist's Companion and Sourcebook, etc. When I am at conventions, I visit the booths to look for state-based guides, such as George Schweitzer's guides on Kentucky and Tennessee research, Bruce Pruitt's and Brent Holcomb's books of abstracts and transcriptions, etc.

  10. The first trick is to identify the "real" place name. Then you start getting a handle on the physical and administrative characteristics from that time-frame. Finally, you look up what genealogical resources are available.
    I use various gazetteers and map sites, Wikipedia (especially the local language versions), FamilySearch, WeRelate, WorldGenWeb sites, Google - whatever may help.
    Last week, I learned a bit about Slovakia as it was in the late 1800s, before using the digitized church registers at FamilySearch.
    This evening, I am working on "Sanscheren" USA, typed on a 1920 passenger list. 1930 census for this person says born in Pennsylvania. Could be Manchester, Allegheny, Pennsylvania according to FuzzyGazetteer but I'm not convinced yet.

  11. Don't forget people as resources. I know so many genealogists now, that when I need that initial advice on a new place or new surname, I ask a person with that expertise. There are societies, such as the NEHGS, that provide reference help online as well.

  12. For the UK, I use a gazetteer (sometimes CuriousFox) to check place names and counties, then the book Ancestral Trails: the complete guide to British genealogy and family history (Mark D. Herber) and the GENUKI Web site.

    For Australia, I first identify the State or Territory (using the Gazetteer of Australia Place Name Search). The book Tracing Your Family History in Australia (Nick Vine Hall) is often helpful, though some chapters are a bit out of date now. I also rely heavily on State Archives or National Archives guides to specific record series.

  13. I find the the FamilySearch Wiki is useful for Scotland, particularly for identifying church records. Most of the information comes from a few reference books so it's not always complete or up-to-date but still a handy reference.

    As Judy says, GENUKI is also useful, although I find the coverage is very patchy and some pages haven't been updated in years.

  14. I use the Family Tree Resource Book for Genealogists, edited by Sharon DeBartolo Carmack & Erin Nevius; the Wiki; Twitter; Google; and other search engines. [And anything else I can think of at the time.]


  15. I turn to USGenWeb. The maps help to pinpoint the county and surrounds plus the links to local information. I tap into all the other resources mentioned and the state historical societies and archives.

  16. "The Family Tree Problem Solver: Proven Methods for Scaling the Inevitable Brick Wall" by the amazing Marsha Hoffman Rising . It's right on my bedside table. Her problem -solving thinking is so clear and well-written , the cases are interesting . I wish she was able to write more stuff as she died last year )-:

  17. Also some old Brigham Young University textbooks from when I took the Genealogy records certification course 20 some years ago , like Donald Line Jacobus , ect . I also treasure my old battered copy of Dr. Jared Suess's Hungarian Research book (it's not published anymore ).
    Thanks for mentioning Family Tree Wiki ! Neat - o !

  18. My first port of call is always Rootsweb. There are Rootsweb mailing lists for virtually every country in the world and often regional mailing lists within those countries:

    For the UK the best place for information is Genuki:

    Some counties do have better coverage than others.

    If people are looking for advice on UK research then the Rootschat community is also very helpful:

  19. For the UK I also start with, which I agree can be patchy.

    For Australia there's not really an equivalent. I'd try the archives and State Library of the State/Territory I was interested in, the National Library and National Archives as well. is a curated Australian genealogy gateway site that is also worth browsing.

  20. I refer to "Tracing Your Scottish Ancestors The Official Guide" when I need information on the vast variety of records held by National Records of Scotland. It's very useful :-)

  21. Thank you for posting this article. I too use the Red Book as my product research guidance in chicago il. It is great and very helpful. Thank you for posting other sources that you use. I will have to check them out!