Must-Read Genealogy Books

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog post, Gena discusses eight genealogy books that she has found helpful with her family history research.

What’s on your summer reading list? It doesn’t matter what literature genre you enjoy, make sure to carve out some time to read genealogy and history books. By reading more about genealogy you can learn research methodologies, discover new-to-you resources, and enhance your skills.

At the GenealogyBank Store you can find must-have books for every family history researcher.

Need some genealogy book recommendations? Here are just a few of my favorites reads.

You Can Write Your Family History

One of the reasons I love newspaper research is because of the rich content you can add to the story of your ancestor’s life. But for many researchers, after the thrill of finding information there is the nagging question of what to do with all of it. Sharon DeBartolo Carmack’s book You Can Write Your Family History provides the tools for taking all of that research and turning it into a family history that everyone will want to read. My favorite part of this book is the chapters on researching and using social history to add interest to your family history story. Read those chapters to take your research from something only a genealogist would want to read to something each and every family member will treasure.

photo of the genealogy book "You Can Write Your Family History"

The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy, Third Edition

What is one of the must-have books for every researcher tracing their United States roots? The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy, Third Edition by Val D. Greenwood should be on every family historian’s bookshelf. Looking for a good overview of the fundamentals of research and sources for tracing your family? This is the book. Greenwood explains how to research using “compiled sources, vital and census records, wills and probate records, local and federal land records, civil and criminal court records, church records, military records, immigration records, and cemetery and burial records.” Every researcher should have a basic how-to genealogy book that covers sources and methodologies, and this is one of the best.

photo of the genealogy book "The Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy"

The Family Tree Guidebook to Europe

Is it time for you to jump across the pond with your genealogy research? Instead of just guessing about what to do next, refer to The Family Tree Guidebook to Europe. This book is not only a good place to find maps and resources, it also provides timelines of events that would have impacted your ancestor’s life. Because history and changing geographical boundaries affected your ancestor’s homeland, consult this work before making your research plans.

photo of the genealogy book "The Family Tree Guidebook to Europe"

The Family Tree Sourcebook

A “companion” to Family Tree Guidebook to Europe is The Family Tree Sourcebook, a must for learning more about states you are researching.

photo of the genealogy book "The Family Tree Sourcebook"

Map Guide to the U.S. Federal Censuses 1790-1920

One of the first genealogy books I saved up to buy was the Map Guide to the U.S. Federal Censuses 1790-1920 by William Thorndale and William Dollarhide. I believe it was co-author William Dollarhide who once made the quip that you could have an ancestor live in five different counties but never move out of their home. This guide shows county outline maps for every 10 years from 1790-1920. Knowing and understanding county boundaries can benefit your census research as well as your finding other types of records (as well as save you valuable research time). To better understand your ancestor’s life, migration, and where to look for records, stock your personal library with maps and map guides. This book will be a great addition to that genealogy collection.

photo of the genealogy book "Map Guide to the U.S. Federal Censuses 1790-1920"

Guide to Naturalization Records in the United States

I’m a big fan of author Christina K. Schaefer’s books. Her Guide to Naturalization Records in the United States is a perfect addition to your library, especially as a resource after you’ve searched for your ancestor’s name on passenger lists in GenealogyBank. This book: “state by state, county by county, city by city, the Guide to Naturalization Records identifies all repositories of naturalization records, systematically indicating the types of records held, their dates of coverage, and the location of original and microfilm records. The Guide also pinpoints the whereabouts of federal court records in all National Archives facilities. But perhaps the most unique feature of the Guide to Naturalization Records is that it identifies every single piece of information on naturalizations that is available on microfilm through the National Archives or the Family History Library System…”

photo of the genealogy book "Guide to Naturalization Records in the United States"

The Hidden Half of the Family: A Sourcebook for Women’s Genealogy

Other books by Christina K. Schaefer include The Hidden Half of the Family: A Sourcebook for Women’s Genealogy, another excellent guide that provides state-by-state resources (and early laws that affected women) for researching female ancestors.

photo of the genealogy book "The Hidden Half of the Family: A Sourcebook for Women’s Genealogy"

Turn Your iPad into a Genealogy Powerhouse

Do you have an iPad? If so, I hope you’re using it for your genealogy. It wasn’t too long ago that doing research at a library or archives meant lugging around a rolling suitcase with a laptop, camera, and more. Today, I simply take my iPad and I have everything I need to research, take images of and store documents, refer to my family tree and look up my virtual library. Technology isn’t doing you any good if you don’t know how to use it. Consider checking out genealogy podcaster and international speaker Lisa Louise Cooke’s Turn Your iPad into a Genealogy Powerhouse. Along with tips and suggestions, there is a look at over 65 apps that can help you make the most of your iPad. While this book is geared towards the iPad, Cooke includes comparable apps for Android tablets.

photo of the genealogy book "Turn Your iPad into a Genealogy Powerhouse"

Looking for more genealogy book ideas? I’ve only hit the tip of the iceberg in this article. For more books including country-specific and early American guides, see the GenealogyBank Store.

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How to Find Your Ancestor’s Divorce Records in the Newspaper

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena describes how old newspaper articles about your ancestor’s divorce can provide valuable family history information to help with your genealogical searches.

I am always surprised when people assume life was so much better generations ago. After all, there was no divorce, drunkenness, or crime, right? Well the great thing about newspapers is that they document all of life: the good, the bad and the ugly. And yes, that ugly included events happening in the “good old days.”

Need proof that yesteryear wasn’t so grand all the time? As long as there has been marriage, some couples have regretted the day they said “I do” and looked for ways to sever that tie. One way to examine American divorce statistics is through U.S. census data. The following newspaper article provides statistics for marriages and divorces based on U.S. census data for the years 1887-1906. In that 20-year period there were 12,832,014 marriages and 945,625 divorces.

Startling Divorce Statistics Given by Census Bureau, Morning Olympian newspaper article 22 December 1908

Morning Olympian (Olympia, Washington), 22 December 1908, page 4

Divorces are recorded in several ways in the newspaper, providing useful clues for further genealogy research. Some examples of divorce records that you can find in newspapers include notices to an absent party in the legal advertisements section, short articles about the outcome of a divorce trial along with other court actions, or even a longer article with detailed descriptions of the allegations, the trial, and the outcome.

The following old news article about divorces heard in the Cuyahoga County (Ohio) court makes it obvious that “the divorce business is on the increase” because of some apparent reasons, such as domestic violence and adultery. Consider the treatment of this unhappy woman: “A long story of extreme cruelty was related by Mrs. Caroline Pavlikofsky as a ground for divorce from Gotlieb Pavlikofsky.” It’s reported that in one year of marriage he had “frequently beaten her…drove her out of the house, threw a burning lamp at her, threatened to beat her brains out with a heavy pan, and such things.”

Divorce Grind, Plain Dealer newspaper article 20 May 1893

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 20 May 1893, page 4

A boon to genealogists are the newspaper articles that list the full names of all the parties involved in divorce court cases, including the judge.

20 Divorce Suits Are Dismissed, Fort Worth Star-Telegram newspaper article 4 February 1908

Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Fort Worth, Texas), 4 February 1908, page 3

Once a genealogy researcher finds mention of their ancestor’s divorce in the newspaper they should then search the Family History Library Catalog or consult with the relevant county’s courthouse to find additional divorce records. If you have never researched court records I recommend studying the book Courthouse Research for Family Historians: Your Guide to Genealogical Treasures by Christine Rose, as well as The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy by Val D. Greenwood.

In some cases you may get much more than just confirmation of your ancestor’s divorce from the newspaper. In the old divorce article example below you also get some additional information and perhaps motives. Historical newspaper articles about divorce cases can also include other important data like marriage date, some possible motivations to marry, and the complaints against the spouse.

Divorce Docket Day, St. Louis Republic newspaper article 25 June 1889

St. Louis Republic (St. Louis, Missouri), 25 June 1889, page 12

Not everyone lived happily ever after. Divorce in your ancestor’s time period was a reality just as it is now. Search newspapers for references throughout your ancestor’s life in your genealogy research and you might be surprised by what you find out about your family history.