My first thought whenever I need to learn something new is to buy a book, and there are many to choose from. I like to have them on my shelves at home so I buy them, but there is nothing wrong with using the resources of your local library.
I have to admit to being a bit of a book collector from way back. I learned to cook, to grow pot plants, to make curtains, to program a computer, and a great many other things, from books. (Yes, as my Mum will tell you, she was never interested in cooking and I had to learn elsewhere).
So when I wanted to know how to take my family history further I started buying books, and I haven’t stopped. I stay on the lookout for new books, and I update them when a new edition comes out. I now use LibraryThing to catalogue my books so that my catalogue is available to me anywhere, even on my mobile phone. You can see a random selection of my genealogy books at right.
These days a library does not only contain books but also CDs and links to websites, among other things, but I think you really have to start with books. Here are some of my favourites.
For Australian genealogy I would suggest that you need these books:
- A good beginner’s guide. Who Do You Think You Are? The Essential Guide to Tracing Your Family History (Australian Edition) is a good choice – informative and entertaining at the same time.
- Another excellent guide, and reasonably priced, is Compiling Your Family History (22nd Edition) by the Society of Australian Genealogists and available from them.
- Tracing Your Family History in Australia by Nick Vine Hall is the most comprehensive guide to sources in every State. He started updating each state on CD, starting with Tracing Your Family History in New South Wales, before he passed away last year. The New South Wales version is now out in book form.
- Any book by Cora Num: Convict Records in Australia; How to Find Shipping and Immigration Records in Australia, Occupational Records in Australia, Websites for Genealogists. She has an excellent website as well.
- If you are really interested in convicts then you also need State Records New South Wales’ Guide to New South Wales State Archives relating to convicts and convict administration.
Britain and Ireland
- An excellent general reference on British family history is Ancestral Trails by Mark Herber. Although it concentrates on English records the principles are the same for Welsh, Scottish and Irish records and where there are differences he spells them out. Now in it’s second edition.
- The standard general reference for Ireland is Tracing Your Irish Ancestry by John Grenham. Now in its third edition, you can’t go past it.
- An excellent series for the beginner is The Genealogist’s Guide to Discovering Your English/Irish/Scottish Ancestors. These books are American and give a great introduction, with pictures of the records, to records from these countries.
- Evaluate and cite your sources correctly and you can’t go too far wrong. The essential reference is Evidence Explained by Elizabeth Shown Mills. Her examples are mostly from American sources but the principles are the same wherever you are.
There are many, many other books that a good library should have but they vary depending on your interests and the geographic situation of your ancestors. As you progress in your research you will probably move from introductory family history books to more detailed guides to specific subjects, such as convicts, immigration, land or schools. We will cover these more specific areas another time.
Sometimes there isn’t a book available in the subject you need to learn, or a book may have been published but it is no longer in print. Second-hand book stores are always worth searching, especially the online forms such as AbeBooks or SeekBooks or even eBay. I use eBay often because I can get it to alert me when a book or a subject I am interested in becomes available.
There is no substitute for a good library. Take advantage of all those people who have gone before, who have spent the time looking for what you need and know how to find it. Buy the books (and read them) and learn from them.