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How to Make Use of Genealogy Reference Books

By: Chris Nickson - Updated: 27 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
Genealogy Family Tree Reference Book

Are genealogy reference books really useful? After all, there’s so much advice available online that books can sometimes seem obsolete. As many of these things are written by people who understand family history and genealogy and have experience of it. Do we still need books to help us?

The simple answer is yes, we do. They’re the most portable aids, always handy and easy to use for obtaining facts and guidance. Reference books take different forms, and some don’t seem to have an immediate connection to assembling a family tree. But they can prove tremendously handy.

The Basics

You can read a great deal about the basics of researching family history online, but nothing beats having a guide to the basics right at your side. When you’re starting out, you need to know you’re doing the right things and you’ll be checking it constantly.

There are several excellent books geared towards those who are beginning to assemble a family tree. It can show you where to begin, which can be the hardest task, and how to proceed. You should look for something that explains technical terms, tells you where to find different records, and the correct way of noting the details on the family tree.

In the early days you should make extensive use of the basic reference book. It won’t tell you everything you need to know, but it should be able to guide you through all the general items without needing to look elsewhere. Sooner or later you’ll run into problems beyond the scope of the book, but by then you should have acquired ample confidence.

Don’t buy the cheapest book on the market; you want one that’s detailed enough to really help you. Think of the book as an investment, much as you’d buy the best possible tool for any hobby.

Specialist Areas

A book can go into depth in a specialist area of family history and give the kind of depth that can’t be covered in any other medium. If you’re working in that area, then it will help you work most effectively.

These can sometimes be quite academic texts, especially where the book deals with obscure areas of family history, such as legal or Church Latin in the Middle Ages. That can make them hard going for the layman. It’s worth persisting, as you’ll probably be able to find the solution to your problem.

With books like these, where you’re only likely to read them once, the best thing to do is borrow them from the library. Photocopy any relevant pages for future reference as you work through your particular query.

Military History

There are numerous books on military history. These range from the very general to detailed tomes on individual regiments. Where you have a number of ancestors who were in the military, especially where they had careers in the service, these can be useful. They offer the type of insider knowledge you’d never manage otherwise. Often you’ll learn where and when the regiment served, which can give you information that can prove vital. At the very least it can fill out the picture of a particular ancestor.

Local History

There are histories of virtually everywhere in the UK. It can be a city, a village, or a suburb that’s been swallowed up as part of a town. If you can discover where your ancestors came from, read up on the local history. Find a good book on the area (possibly the only book on the place). Inevitably local characters will be mentioned and you might find your family named, adding an extra dimension, as well as other family history leads to follow.

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