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Building a Dream Library

by Myra Vanderpool Gormley, CG
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Books That Can Help
In this age of electronic research, books may seem obsolete and out-of-date. Myra Vanderpool Gormley believes otherwise; let her show you how genealogy books can be valuable additions to your research arsenal.

Today's genealogist has many references at her fingertips via the Internet and yet we want access to more information. My library overfloweth and my mouse is worn out from clicking about the Web, but still I buy books and CDs.

Down the long hallway and into my Grandmother's kitchen, like the biblical Three Wise Men, the aunts, grandaunts and assorted cousins would trudge, bearing their food treasures. This holiday ritual evokes powerful memories, complete with smells and tastes of some sweet times of my childhood There were Aunt Helen's famous chocolate cakes, slathered with icing and weighted down with pecans the size of half-dollars; Aunt Thelma's to-die-for lemon meringue pies; Grandaunt Nora's sugar cookies decorated so prettily it was almost a shame to bite into them; and every year some new sweet delight would make its debut at a family gathering. We children would troop in and out the kitchen to admire the treasures, and, when opportunity presented itself, grab a forbidden pinch. When at last the big moment came when we were told to choose one dessert, it was almost impossible. I always wanted a bite of all the goodies.

It is the same with a genealogy library. Once upon a time, like a child eyeing holiday desserts, I wanted everything even remotely connected with genealogy. However, even if we have unlimited budgets and space to house large collections, the family historian discovers not everything available in print, film or CD is really useful to their research or worth owning. Moreover, as we progress in our skills we need different types of material. As our research takes us backward in time and often into specialized areas, or about special groups, or into additional localities where our ancestors once lived, our needs change.

Thus the Dream Library, much like the Dream Vacation, means something different to each of us. If you are a professional genealogist doing work for American clients, your Dream Library needs are going to differ from that of the hobbyist's whose grandparents emigrated from Poland in the 1890s. The family historian tracing ancestors with roots mired deeply in New England has different needs than I with my multi-ethnicities and spiraling branches into all the American colonies except New England. Nevertheless, there are some common guidelines for acquiring the material for your Dream Library.

You can divide your library into several types of materials:

How-To Guides and Manuals

Your Dream Library might include some or all of the following how-to guides and manuals:

  • Greenwood, Val D. The Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy. 3rd edition.. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2000. This is one of the most popular how-to genealogy textbooks, and if you can afford to purchase only one book, this should be it.

  • Crandall, Ralph. Shaking Your Family Tree: A Basic Guide to Tracing Your Family's Genealogy. Dublin, N.H.: Yankee Publishing, 1986 (now distributed by St. Martin's Press). This is an easy-to-read book, with excellent examples. It has a New England focus.

  • Szucs, Loretta D. and Sandra H. Luebking, The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy. rev. ed. Salt Lake City: Ancestry, 1997. This is a comprehensive guide covering major U.S. record sources, and various categories and special fields of research. A must.

  • Croom, Emily. Genealogist's Companion & Sourcebook: A Beyond-the-Basics, Hands-on Guide to Unpuzzling Your Past. Cincinnati, Ohio: Betterway Books, 1994.

  • Doane, Gilbert H. Searching for Your Ancestors: The How and Why of Genealogy. (4th ed). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota 1973. A timeless tale of how-to research your family tree — long before computers and the Internet. It was originally published in 1937.

  • Jacobus, Donald L. Genealogy as Pastime and Profession. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1986. This is the classic work by the dean of American genealogy.

Record Descriptions

Depending on your interests, of course, but references pertaining to the description of various records are invaluable to have at your fingertips. These would include such books as:

  • Neagles, James C. U.S. Military Records: A Guide to Federal & State Sources. Salt Lake City, Ancestry, 1994.

  • Brown, Brian A. In the Footsteps of the Blue and Gray: A Civil War Research Handbook. Shawnee Mission, Kansas: Two Trails Genealogy Shop, 1996.

  • Hone, E. Wade. Land & Property Research in the United States. Salt Lake City, Ancestry, 1997.

  • Arends, Marthe. Genealogy Software Guide. Baltimore, Genealogical Publishing Co., 1998.

  • Arends, Marthe. Genealogy on CD-ROM. Baltimore, Genealogical Publishing Co., 1999.

  • Dollarhide, William. The Census Book: A Genealogist's Guide to Federal Census Facts, Schedules and Indexes. Bountiful, Utah: Heritage Quest, 1999.

  • Hoffman, Marian. Genealogical & Local Books in Print. 5th Edition: Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1997. These four volumes provide a giant catalog of privately and commercially published books on genealogy and local history that are in print. Volume one pertains to family histories, volume two lists books of general or world references and volumes three and four are devoted to U.S. sources.

  • Everton Publishers, Inc. Handybook for Genealogists. (8th edition). Logan, Utah: Everton Publishers, 1991. Includes color state maps and migration route maps, plus listings for each state and county or parish with information about its records of interest to genealogists.


Locality-related sources you'll want to have in your Dream Library include:

  • Eichholz, Alice, editor. Ancestry's Red Book: American State, County and Town Sources. Revised Edition. Salt Lake City: Ancestry, 1992. It provides a guide to the most useful resources in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia along with brief historical background on each state, the settlement patterns, the major records, and the context in which records were kept.

  • Bently, Elizabeth Petty. County Courthouse Book. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1995. This references provides address and phone numbers of each county, information about the coverage and availability of major courthouse records such as probate, land, naturalization and vital records, and the range of services available at the courthouse.

  • Kemp, Thomas Jay. International Vital Records Handbook (3rd edition). Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1994. A guide to exactly where to obtain copies of birth, marriage and death certificates, and the cost of same–at the time of publication.

  • McGinnis, Carol. Virginia Genealogy: Sources and Resources. Baltimore, Genealogical Publishing Co., 1993.

Special Peoples or Ethnic Groups

Examples of the types of references you might include for Special People or Ethnic Groups are:

  • Byers, Paula K., editor. Native American Genealogical Sourcebook. Detroit: Gale Research, Inc., 1995.

  • Schweitzer, George K. German Genealogical Research. privately printed, 1995.

  • Thode, Ernest. German-English Genealogical Dictionary. Baltimore,: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1992.

Technologies and Advanced Skills

Under "Technologies and Advanced Skills" references you might wish to have are:

  • McClure, Rhonda. The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy. Indianapolis: Alpha Books, 2000.

  • Schaefer, Christina K. A Genealogist's No-Frills Guide to the 50 States & the District of Columbia. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1999.

  • Mills, Elizabeth Shown. Evidence! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1997.

  • Stratton, Eugene Aubrey. Applied Genealogy. Salt Lake City: Ancestry, 1988.

  • Stevenson, Noel C. Genealogical Evidence: A Guide to the Standard of Proof Relating to Pedigrees, Ancestry, Heirship and Family History. Laguna Hills, Calif.: Aegean Park Press, 1989.

Finding Aids, Directories, References and Dictionaries

The Dream Library cannot have too many Finding Aids, Directories, References and Dictionaries. These vary greatly depending on your particular needs, but among the excellent geographical finding aids for U.S. research are:

  • Thorndale, William and William Dollarhide. Map Guide to the U.S. Federal Censuses, 1790-1920. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1987.

  • AniMap Plus County Boundary Historical Atlas. Alamo, California: The Gold Bug — A CD-ROM that shows the changing boundaries for each of the 48 adjacent United States for all years since colonial times, plus includes maps showing state and territorial boundaries from the 13 colonies to the present state boundaries.

  • Bahn, Gilbert S. American Place Names of Long Ago. (Excerpted and reprinted from the 1898 edition of Cram's Unrivaled Atlas of the World). Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1998.

Additionally, references that provide information about research in general, rather than just genealogical material are invaluable. One such reference is:

  • Horowitz, Lois. Knowing Where to Look: The Ultimate Guide to Research. Cincinnati: Writer's Digest Books, 1988.  

A good large dictionary, such as The Random House Dictionary of the English Language, is a must, plus various foreign-language dictionaries if you are working with records in other languages, including Latin. The Dream Library probably will include the following:

  • Black, Henry Campbell. Black's Law Dictionary. St. Paul, Minn.: West Publishing Co., 1990.

  • Hanks, Patrick, and Flavia Hodges. A Dictionary of Surnames. New York: Oxford, University Press, 1989.

  • Drake, Paul. What Did They Mean by That? A Dictionary of Historical Terms for Genealogists. Bowie, Maryland: Heritage Books, 1994.

  • Evans, Barbara Jean. A to Zax: A Comprehensive Dictionary for Genealogists and Historians. 3rd ed. Alexandria, Virginia: Hearthside Press, 1995.

  • Fitzhugh, Terrick V. H. Dictionary of Genealogy. London: A & C. Black, 1991.

  • Lederer, Richard M. Jr. Colonial American English. Essex, Connecticut: A Verbatim Book, 1985.

Actual Records or Indices — In Print and on CD

There is almost no limit to what one might collect, but again, it depends greatly on your interests and area of research. The major types of records that are available on CDs are: census and marriage indices, plus some land and military records. You also will find compiled genealogies and many books available in CD format. Three major collections available on CD that the Dream Library probably will have are:

  • The New England Historical and Genealogical Register (20 volumes)
  • National Genealogical Society Quarterly (Volumes 1-85)
  • PERSI — Periodical Source Index. This is the subject index of genealogy and local history periodicals created by the Allen County Public Library of Fort Wayne, Indiana.

One nice thing about the Dream Library is as your research focus changes, you can pass along the older material, perhaps donate it to a local library, and make room for the new goodies.

Creating Your Own Online Library

While the vast majority of actual records and indices are still available in print or on CD-ROM, you can also find a growing number online. Purchasing online access to data allows you to add to your library without cluttering up your bookshelves at home. They also have the added convenience of giving you immediate access to the data after you decide it may be of use to you: there's no waiting for a CD or book to arrive in the mail. Some online data services to try are's online subscriptions.

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