By Kimberly Tucker
Having recently painted my office a fresh Robin’s egg blue, I removed all of my genealogy books from my shelves. This gave me the perfect opportunity to take stock of my library and spend some time sharing it with you.
While there are plenty of other good options that could be added to this list, I consider the following selection of family history books must reads for any serious researcher, professional genealogist, or anyone who wants to become a professional genealogist (with one exception because all learning must be fun). In fact, they are a must for anyone who wants to improve their research. These books will certainly take you more than a year to work through, but the effort will be well worth it.
Editor’s Note: Many of the books on this list are advanced research manuals and guides. For a collection of lighter selections in the genealogy category check out this list of recommend research books here and our selection family history titles that are free with Kindle Unlimited here.
We may earn money to support our work if you choose to buy books linked to from this page.
10 Genealogy Books for Improving Your Research
Mills, Elizabeth Shown. 2001. Baltimore: Genealogical Pub. Co.
If you are intending to go pro, or just want to produce professional quality work, this book is a must. It will get you off the ground running with valuable resources for research, writing, publishing, education, legal and ethical issues and your career – should you decide to go that route.
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Szucs, Loretto Dennis, and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking. 2006. Provo, UT: Ancestry.
Anyone doing research in the U.S. will find this book valuable. It covers the key record groups and U.S. specific research areas including African, Jewish and Native American, Colonial English and Spanish, Hispanic, and Urban research. It has an excellent appendix with extensive resources.
Ash, Russell. 2009.
This book is an amusing read and a must-have to break up some of the heavy reading on this list. Russell Ash researched centuries of vital records, census records, phone books and other sources for this riotous list of true names – some which might make you blush. A few of the tame examples are: Lousy Butler, Charles Daffychild, and Lotta Rump.
Mills, Elizabeth Shown. 2017.
This is a must have book for properly citing sources, especially the most challenging ones. My copy has several post-its marking pages I frequently use or found most helpful.
Fitzpatrick, Colleen. 2013. Fountain Valley, Calif: Rice Book Press.
Forensic genealogy was recommended to me by a dear friend and mentor, who is also a genealogist, and what a great recommendation it was. From investigating old photographs, to unusual sources, databases, historical context and DNA, this book will make you feel as confident as Ms. Marple in tackling any tough research problem.
Board for Certification of Genealogists (Washington, D.C.). 2000.
If you are considering certification, get this book and also visit the BCG website for updates and more information. Even if you aren’t considering becoming a certified genealogist this book is helpful for anyone seeking to produce a quality family history.
Jones, Thomas W. 2013.
Jones takes the The BCG genealogical standards manual one step further with more detailed information about the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS). It is a textbook, complete with exercises (and answers in the back). This book is a labor of love from Jones to the genealogical community to help family historians learn from his experience.
Jacobus, Donald Lines. 1968. Baltimore: Genealogical Pub. Co.
Milton Rubincam, in his introduction to Genealogy as pastime and profession, called it the “classic of all time.” Get a copy. Originally published in 1930, there is a newer edition available, published in 1999. My used copy is the 1968 model. While times have changed, as have some of the research methods, the principles in this book have not. As Jacobus says in the last sentence of this short, 120 page book, “Accept nothing unreservedly until proved.”
Rubincam, Milton. 1987.
The distinguished Rubincam covers the classic pitfalls most genealogists encounter in Pitfalls in genealogical research. Concise yet thorough, this book includes: same name problems, the 1752 calendar change from the Julian to the Gregorian, the yearning for Royal ancestry, fraudulent pedigrees, and the coat of arms craze.
10. Local/Regional/State Gazetteers, Guides, and Histories for your Area(s) of Research
A great example of this for anyone researching their ancestors in New York is the New York Family History Research Guide and Gazetteer. Joshi, Naomi. 2015.
It is difficult to express the value of this work of over 100 contributors and advisors. The New York Genealogical and Biographical Society (NYG&B) “set out to produce a definitive guidebook of research resources in New York State,” according to Jeanne Sloane, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, NYG&B.
David S. Ferriero, Archivist of the United States said, “Three years of intensive work culminate in this volume, which serves as a comprehensive guide to the resources available to research the histories of families with New York roots. The Guide is a unique resource which not only supports those interested in New York State, but also provides a model for other states-a true gift to those interested in family history.”
That wraps up my list of must-read genealogy books. Happy hunting!
Kimberly Tucker is a faculty member at the National Institute for Genealogical Studies. Kim taught a four-week beginning genealogy class at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of South Florida in Tampa and also wrote a series of columns for the Association of Personal Historians about how to incorporate genealogical research in personal histories. Prior to being a full-time genealogist and personal historian, Kim was a Communications Director, Designer, and Managing Editor at the University of South Florida and worked in film and television production, primarily for PBS. Find her at www.rootstories.com.
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