Your genealogy library

IMG_7033_300x200My 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.
  • 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.

Genealogical standards

  • 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.

Irish Education Opportunities

There is a wealth of seminars and other educational opportunities concerning Ireland and the Irish in the next few months. They are not all in Sydney so be prepared for some travel.

From There to Here – Exploring 19th Century Irish migration to Australia

Celtic Club 316-320 Queen Street Melbourne     Saturday 13th September 9:30am to 4pm

This seminar is being hosted by Genealogical Society of Victoria Irish Interest Group. Facilitator is Dr Val Noone and the speakers are:

  • Dr Richard Reid – Why They Came (Keynote address)
  • Dr Keith Pescod – 19th Century migration hostels – care or control?
  • Dr Richard Reid – The Irish in Australia
  • Dr Pauline Rule – Irish Women in 19th Century Colonial Victoria
  • Dr Charles Fahey – The Irish in Northern and Central Victoria

This is a rare opportunity to hear such learned speakers covering a single topic of Irish relevance in such depth. Cost is $45 including lunch and morning and afternoon tea. Bookings through the Genealogical Society of Victoria on (03) 9662 4455.

Far From Famine – a gathering of the descendants of Irish Famine orphans 1848-1850

St Clement’s Monastery, Galong, NSW           Thursday 2nd to Tuesday 7th October

St Clement’s Monastery is host to Shamrock in the Bush every year. This special gathering is to be held in honour of the 4114 female orphans sent to the Australian colonies from Irish workhouses between 1848 and 1850 during the Great Famine, although you don’t need to be descended from one of these orphans to attend.

Keynote speaker will be Irish archaeologist and historian Michael Gibbons. The long list of speakers will include Richard Reid, Cheryl Mongan, Perry McIntyre, Cora Num, Brad Manera, Jeff Brownrigg, and many others on a range of topics related to Irish and Australian history and the immigration of the Irish to Sydney, Moreton Bay, Victoria and South Australia.

Workshops and research assistance will be available from Cora Num and other experienced researchers. Irish Australian music and culture will be on display, with entertainment provided in the evenings. A ecumenical thanksgiving service and commemorative tree-planting have also been organised.

This is a marvellous opportunity to immerse yourself in the history and culture of this period in Australia’s history. The price includes accommodation, all meals, lectures and entertainment, including the official dinner in Galong House on the Saturday night. The price varies according to the accommodation chosen from $570 to $640 for 5 nights with a discount offered for payment before 30th August.

Full details of the programme and further information can be found at the website or by emailing the organisers at

Convicts! – a day of seminars at the Society of Australian Genealogists

Richmond Villa, 120 Kent Street, Sydney Saturday 25th October

Not strictly about the Irish, to be sure, but so many of the 140,000 or so convicts brought to this country were Irish that I thought this day warranted inclusion. Topics include:

  • Getting started with convict research
  • The administration of government-employed convicts
  • Beyond the basics – finding out more about your convict
  • Convicts/transportees and those colonial convictions in the UK and Ireland

A collection of convict items will be on display. Morning and afternoon tea are included in the price of $50 for members of the Society and $60 for non-members.

Irish Day – a day of seminars at the Society of Australian Genealogists

Venue to be confirmed Saturday 29th November

This seminar day is still in the planning stages but promises to be another excellent opportunity for Irish researchers in Sydney. Organised by Perry McIntyre. More details will become available at the Society of Australian Genealogists in the next few weeks.

Tour of Ireland May 2009 with the Society of Australian Genealogists

A regular feature on the calendar of the Society of Australian Genealogists is a genealogical tour of Ireland hosted by Perry McIntyre and Richard Reid. These tours are very popular and focus on repositories of interest to researchers. The exact itinerary can be tailored to the interests of participants.

I hope to see you at one or more of these events – please say hello!

If you know of any other Irish seminars or events please let me know and I will include them here.

Genealogy education

dreamstimefree_6456266_320x240No matter how long you’ve been tracing your family history there is always more work to do. Similarly, no matter how much you think you know about how to trace your family history, there is always more to learn. Things are changing all the time as new records and indexes become available, as the internet is used more, and as your research progresses and your interests change.

You may find that a family you are tracing came from Scotland and so you need to find out about Scottish research. Or the family moved to Queensland and you need to find out where to find Queensland death certificates and probate. Or you find that an ancestor became a farmer and you need to find out about land records. Or you can’t decipher some old handwriting, or understand the terms used in an old will.

So how do you learn more?

The obvious way is to buy books, and that is a topic for another time. I’d like to cover some other places to learn that you may not have thought of.

The Internet

It is amazing how much information there is available on the internet. I’m not talking here about doing a search for the name of your ancestor and finding that someone has done all the work and put it on the web; I’m talking about research guides to individual geographic areas or types of documents.

Many websites have guides to research in different geographical areas or subject areas:

Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia that can be edited by anyone.  What this means in practice is that if anyone puts something suspect in there someone else will come along and update or remove the offending material. There are many more specialised lists of terms around but Wikipedia is a good first option to look for the name of a place or the meaning of a legal or medical term. Where it gives sources it can be useful as a pointer to more specialised works.

The Encyclopedia of Genealogy works the same way as Wikipedia but is more specialised. It is run by Dick Eastman, the writer of a well-known genealogy blog. Material is being added every day.

Society of Australian Genealogists has some excellent research guides under their Helping You menu, written by highly experienced staff and volunteers.

State Records NSW have many indispensible guides to the records they hold available online. Archives in Brief are fact sheets about specific topics such as Convicts and Passenger Lists and can be downloaded and printed, or collected from the reading rooms.

GenUKI is the best place to find out what is available for UK research. Most counties are managed by a volunteer who keeps the site up to date. What is available and where, which parish is where, what is being indexed and whether it is available online.

Familysearch has a large number of research guides for many countries of the world and States of the USA under their main Research Guidance menu. Australia and New Zealand are not included.

Courses and lectures

I’ve talked about these before. Here is a brief list:

  • State Records NSW hold free seminars on a regular basis on the records available in their archives and how they can help you with your research.
  • The NSW and ACT Family History Societies Annual Conference will be held this year in Dubbo from 12-14th September 2008.
  • Many family history societies have their own annual fairs or conferences.

Internet forums

No matter what your area or preference, there is almost certainly a forum or a mailing list that can tell you more. You can read what other people ask and the answers they receive, and you can ask your own questions and get answers. Most people are very helpful and courteous in these forums.

Rootsweb host a great many mailing lists and message boards for family historians all over the world, including many regions and societies in Australia. Many genealogical societies host their own forums and restrict access to members, but most are open to everyone.


Podcasts are relatively new to the world of genealogy, and the world in general, but are a marvellous way of listening to lectures on many topics from all around the world.

A podcast is a sound or video recording that has been made available on the internet. The ABC, for example, makes many of its radio and television shows available at

You can download individual episodes or you can subscribe to a feed. A feed requires a podcast reader such as iTunes or Juice which you run on your computer. I use the one that came with my MP3 player, called Zencast. You can then listen to them at your leisure on your computer or download them to your MP3 player or mobile phone to listen to when you are out and about. I listen to podcasts on the train and at the gym.

The National Archives in England records many of its lectures on history and family history as podcasts. I must admit to these being my favourites, even the ones about Oliver Cromwell and Henry the Eighth, neither of whom I’m related to (as far as I know!).

Genealogical Society of Victoria has started recording lectures and making them available to their members on their website. This is a trend that I hope other societies will follow.

The ABC’s Radio National has a weekly program on social history called Hindsight which can give you a broader picture of a place or time or person in history.

There are many more, especially in the United States. So many that I think they should be the topic of a future post.

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