“Tsundoku” – the Japanese word for buying books and letting them pile up unread. Yes I’m guilty of that. But I also have piles of read books because I don’t have enough bookshelf space, despite buying yet another one last year to accommodate my burgeoning genealogy and WW1 book collection. I return to these books time and time again for pleasure and my research (interchangeable, because I get enjoyment from research).Trying to narrow it down to my top ten go-to books has been a really difficult decision because it depends on which aspect of research I’m concentrating. Some such as the handy little Gibson Guides covering topics from Militia Lists, to Hearth Tax and Probate Jurisdictions are invaluable but very specific. I wanted a broader range of topics in my selection.
So in the end I’ve gone for a mixture of general reference and more specialised books, including some tailored to my own family history interests. Here they are, in no particular order:
- “Ancestral Trails: The Complete Guide to British Genealogy and Family History” – Mark Herber. Exactly as described in the title. It’s my definitive reference book, written in a easy-to-read style and jam-packed with information. A book I couldn’t do without.
- “The Dictionary of Genealogy” – Terrick V H FitzHugh. An alphabetical glossary of terms. A quick reference source to dip into.
- “Tracing your Ancestors in the National Archives: The Website and Beyond” – Amanda Bevan. An in-depth guide which clearly set outs and explains The National Archives series of records. It is indeed “the biggest and best guide to The National Archives”
- “The Phillimore Atlas and Index of Parish Registers” – edited by Cecil R Humphrey-Smith. Although this might not be for everyone because the information is available on the Internet, I find it invaluable having everything about pre-1832 parishes at county-level in one place, juxtaposed with the topographical county map. There is a comprehensive index of the parishes complete with dates of registers. The Ecclesiastical and Peculiar Jurisdictions are also included. It covers England, Scotland and Wales. Though for those with poor eyesight, a magnifying glass to see the maps in detail is advisable!
- “UK Timeline for Family Historians” – Angela Smith & Neil Bertram. Provides a timeline for family historians setting genealogical events and resources into a wider historical context. It’s not exhaustive but it is a really useful quick, basic reference book.
- “Genealogy – Essential Research Methods” – Helen Osborn. This is a different type of book. It is a detailed, well laid out reference for problem-solving research strategies to help break down brick walls. Some excellent advice on research methodology.
- “Palaeography for Family and Local Historians” – Hilary Marshall. I think it is essential to have a book about palaeography, abbreviations and Latin to help with deciphering old handwriting and language. I have a number all of which I use to varying degrees, so it was difficult to chose one. But in the end I went for this comprehensive book. It has the standard characteristics of letters, abbreviations and a Latin vocabulary. But it also includes copies of original documents accompanied by the transcript, translation, a description and any notable features of the script. So everything in one book.
- “Tracing your Mayo Ancestors” – Brian Smith. I have a significant contingent of Irish ancestors. I agonised about which Irish ancestry book to include in my list. I was torn between this and John Grenham’s “Tracing Your Irish Ancestors” covering the whole of the country. But as, so far, all my ancestors are from County Mayo I went for a book focusing purely on the records for this County. There are other County books in this series of Flyleaf Press publications.
- “My Ancestor was a Coalminer: A Guide to Coalminer Sources for Family Historians” – David Tonks. I love the SoG “My Ancestor was A…..” series of books, alongside Pen & Sword’s “Tracing Your Ancestor” series. My ancestors were predominantly coalminers, so for me a coal-mining family history research book is essential. I’ve included this one for the comprehensive pointer to various coal-mining sources. But I could have equally chosen Pen & Sword’s very informative and generally more detailed “Tracing Your Coalmining Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians” by Brian Elliott (I’ve cheated though and included this book in my final picture). However the deciding factor was my final choice, another Pen & Sword publication.
- “Tracing Your First World War Ancestors” – Simon Fowler. First World War ancestry is another one of my particular interests, having researched the 76 men on my local church War Memorial, St Mary of the Angels RC Church, Batley. I have a number of books about military research. But this is a good basic introduction covering the full range of those involved in the conflict, including women and civilians at war.
To keep a track of my books I keep a A-Z by author index of them all. I make sure I take to any family history fairs and events so, in theory, I won’t duplicate purchases; and even if I can’t immediately spot a book on my over-crowded bookshelves, I know it’s there somewhere!
If you have tips for essential family history books please feel free to share them. It’s great to hear about key books, whether you are beginner to family history research or more experienced.