Researching family history with books

As we progress through the weekly themes for @ANZAncestryTime on Twitter, it’s given me the opportunity to reflect on topics that have been neglected by me for some time, or reminded me that I’ve posted about them before, some times a long while ago.

The topic on 2 February was Books, another one close to the heart of most family historians. It certainly generated a lot of discussion on the night, and since. You can check out the responses on #ANZAncestryTime and follow this link for the blog post summary by Sue.

E-Books or “Real Books”?

I admit that I’m increasingly a fan of e-books simply for convenience and the fact that I’m running out of space for bookshelves and also on the shelves themselves. While I don’t highlight, tag or comment on a general book, I will do so on a reference book. Many people regard this as a heresy, but it does serve as an aide memoir. At least with an e-book I always add them to my GoodReads profile while with real books I do sometimes (often?) forget to add them to my LibraryThing catalogue.

My reference books are critical to understanding my families’ lives, their communities and their employment. Some are broad-based while some are very focused on a particular topic. I have many reference books on migration, especially from Ireland, and a small group of fiction novels which help to illuminate my understanding of the general environment for my ancestors eg the Famine in Ireland. Try The Silent People by Walter Macken.

One of the things my genimates brought to the fore, was how many books are now available through the Internet Archive. While I routinely use the Wayback Machine to track down “disappeared” websites, I really hadn’t paid attention to the books online…whoops!

Inspired by the conversation I finally updated my list of recommended reading on my blog, and categorised them by topic. Being time-pressured and lazy I didn’t include the full bibliographic reference details including publisher, date and place. However, I have included links to where you can find the books so that will be helpful. A further update with full details will have to wait unfortunately. You can find my list here. Feel free to add your comments in the comments.

Past blog posts

Setting our books free

Ten from Ten: Favourite Books

Beyond the Internet Week 30: Books

52 Weeks of Abundant Genealogy Week 18: Historical books

Discovering “New” Books

Here are some of the ways that I find books that might progress my research understanding:

  • Search the online catalogues by keyword (pubs, mariners, Germans, Irish migration, emigration, specific places) to see what comes up.
  • Check out what’s available in your state or national reference library as well as university libraries near you.
  • Don’t ignore theses or academic journal articles which can be very informative and aren’t the challenge to read that you might anticipate.
  • As you read, keep an eye out for the references other researchers use: these will give you further clues to follow up.
  • Check out the bibliographies in relevant books for new reading material or even reference to primary records previously unknown to you.
  • Buddy up with other genimates via LibraryThing, or GoodReads, and see what their reading lists include.
  • Have a look at their blogs to see if they have a books reference tab (mine’s there but the list is the tip of the iceberg.
  • Keep an eye out on blogs for genealogy book reviews.
  • Don’t forget that historical fiction might also give you a feel for the life and times of your ancestors.
  • You may not find a specific reference to a family member, but the context will aid you in understanding their place and life.
  • Follow genimates on social media: Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook.


Are there other ideas you’d like to add?

6 thoughts on “Researching family history with books

  1. Have just enjoyed reading all your book related posts. Thanks for the recommendations, have just borrowed Oceans of Consolation from the internet Archive for 14 days, Off to start reading it

    Liked by 1 person

  2. After not being able to comment on your posts for a few weeks I have logged in and out of WordPress and changed my password. Pleased to be able to comment once more. BTW this is such a practical post, Thanks

    Liked by 1 person

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