12 Genealogy Books for the Professional Genealogist

12 Genealogy Books for the Professional Genealogist

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Video transcript (edited for clarity):

Today we're going to talk about my top 12 books for professional genealogists. 

If you don’t like mine, if you think I should have another one in my list, let me know because I’m always looking forward to buying another book. 

Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy

This book is not in my top 12, but it's a book that if you're beginning and you want to really go down the road of becoming a genealogist, this is a good beginning point. Of course it's thick, so it'll take you a while to get through it, but it's well worth having.

The Genealogist's Guide to American Genealogy is probably the bible in my mind. It's how I got started. Not with this edition, I have a first edition somewhere. I don't reference it very much anymore, but it provided a firm foundation for me to be able to move forward to become what I am genealogically today. 

12) Genealogical Guide to Genealogical Research in the National Archives 

Now because I’m an archives kind of guy, National Archives kind of guy, in my top 12 would have to be the Guide to Genealogical Research in the National Archives. 

In my youth and early years, probably the first 20 years of being a genealogist, I referred to this all the time. I don't refer to it as much now as I used to, but that's because I’ve had a lot of practice with the records.

But if you haven't had practice with the National Archives, haven't had practice with the records there, I highly recommend that you get a copy of this book from the National Archives. 

11) Reading Early American Handwriting

In your mind try to figure out what you think my next book is going to be. 

I also spend a lot of time in colonial handwriting, so Kip Sperry’s book on Reading Early American Handwriting was very important to me in the beginning in trying to figure out what things were like that double f thing that's actually an s or something like that.

Anyway, reading early American handwriting is going to be something you're going to do if you're going to have to deal with records prior to typewriters. 

10) Map Guide to the US Federal Censuses

My next book is the Map Guide The U.S. Federal Censuses 1790 to 1912 by William Dollarhide. I use this all the time.

I may not use it to determine whether a census is available or not. I use it more from the perspective of being able to quickly determine county formation. 

Like I was just dealing with a problem yesterday with somebody in Overton County, Tennessee and I was reminded when I pulled out Dollarhide about the Walker Line and about how if you're researching Overton, you need to research up into Kentucky also. 

By the way, there's a Mark Lowe lecture on that somewhere about the Walker Line so if you live in northern Tennessee close to the Kentucky border or that's where you're researching, you want to know that.

I especially use this for early censuses because those counties get formed pretty quickly and you always want to know what the essence of county formation is.

9) Understanding and Using Baptismal Records 

John Humphrey wrote a book on Understanding and Using Baptismal Records. 

This is one of those books that's mistitled. My sense is that this is the best book for using church records and it gives you some idea not only about what church records these individual denominations created, but the reasons for their creation. 

I miss John very much and I’m sure many of you do also. 

8) Numbering Your Genealogy

We're down to number eight. My eighth book Is Numbering Your Genealogy. A very important text, very thin. 

But a lot of people think it's necessary to create their own numbering system when they create their genealogy and I’m here to tell you if you do you're a fool in spite of what you think of yourself. 

There are only two accepted numbering systems for publishing – that's NGSQ and the Register. Anything else, outside of an editor requiring you to do something else because editors are funny that way somehow, in genealogy these are the two that count except for some strange thing that I’ve never used that you can find about if you read this.

7) Genetic Genealogy in Practice 

So number seven. DNA has a lot to do with what we're doing these days. Blaine Bettinger and Debbie Parker Wayne’s book on Genetic Genealogy in Practice was my second opportunity to learn about DNA. 

My first was a Heritage Books cruise where we went to Panama. And I took Blaine and CeCe and Angie with me, and they spent 21 hours telling me and a bunch of other people all about DNA. 

And this helped to reinforce what I learned during those sessions. 

Because of the paper shortage this one is currently out of print. I hope paper comes back. Those trees have got to grow. 

Now because that book is out of print, I’ve got a substitute book for you, which is not out of print and that's Blaine’s book on the Family Tree Guide To DNA Testing and Genetics and Genealogy and it's an excellent book, too.

It's now in its second edition. So this can substitute for the Genetic Genealogy in Practice book, but you're probably going to want to get both of them. But they serve for me the same purpose. 

6) Professional Genealogy 

Then number six is Professional Genealogy. Now this is the second Professional Genealogy. This is the preparation, practice, and standards group. 

I wrote chapter 24 in this one. And I use this often when I have something specific that I’m confused about and trust me I do get confused about things often. So this helps me to unconfuse myself in regard to a lot of issues. 

The table of contents is robust, and it deals with all kinds of things that you as a professional will want to know and will want to use in your business. 

Now prior to this version, there was the first version which was Professional Genealogy: Manual For Researchers, Writers, Editors, Lecturers, and Librarians. Some people think this is dated. I find it very useful also because it does contain things that the other version doesn't, so I recommend both. 

5) North Carolina Research: Genealogy and Local History

Now this one goes a little bit farther afield. This is my fifth favorite book and probably my in real life, maybe my first. But this is Helen Leary’s book on North Carolina Research. 

Now this book is another book that's mistitled. It really should be titled How To Do Genealogical Research Using North Carolina as an example.  

I’m sorry, this is the best book on genealogy in my mind that exists. It's not really a how-to but it gives you some idea about what might be available in a state. What kinds of records exist and how to use those records. 

This book is only available from the North Carolina Genealogical Society or Amazon, and I recommend that you get it from them as quickly as you can. Again number five, but in my heart, number one.

4) Mastering Genealogical Documentation 

Number four is Mastering Genealogical Documentation. You cannot be a genealogist if you don't document anything. And Tom Jones gives us the perfect opportunity to look at how we should be documenting our genealogical reports and those kinds of things. 

So this book is worth the read. I may take the time four years from now to go through it chapter by chapter just like I’m doing the books today. Good book, you should have it. 

3) Genealogy Standards, Second Edition 

My number three book is this book on Genealogical Standards. 

You should read this often. You should apply this in your life often. 

I don't do it enough. I want to do it more, but this book is an absolute necessity for a professional genealogist, especially if you wish to become certified. 

2) Mastering Genealogical Proof 

Number two is Mastering Genealogical Proof. If you can't master genealogical proof, you're not going to be a good genealogist. So this probably is number two for a very good reason. 

One of the first things that you're going to have to do is learn how to deal with the concept of mastering genealogical proof, so an absolute necessity. 

1) Evidence Explained

Can you guess what my number one book is? Think about it for just a moment. Write it down on a piece of paper. Okay, you ready? 

There should not have been any question at all as to whether this should or should not be your first book. Evidence Explained. 

Now I will read you what she said. No I won't, but it was good. I spent a couple of years working with Elizabeth Shown Mills on this book. She says so in the book in the acknowledgments. 

This is in my own mind one of my favorite things and I’m lousy at it. And I’m lousy at it because I don't write enough stuff that requires complex citation because I’m a list guy pretty much, a tax list a military list, a muster roll, a finding aid. 

I’m not a narrative guy. I’m trying to be a narrative guy, but when I truly become a narrative guy, which should be soon, something I’ve said for years, this is going to be even more well-worn than it is.   

Now there are substitutes for this because this book is expensive and maybe you don't have the money to start out here.

There is a smaller version of this known as Evidence.

In both of these books, Evidence and Evidence Explained, the most important work in all of genealogy is the first two chapters. The chapter on fundamentals of evidence analysis and the chapter on fundamentals of citation. 

If you can master these two chapters, you will be well on the road to becoming a fantastic awesome genealogist. I say again the first two chapters of this this book are the most important part of this book. 

All of the sample citations that exist in this book, of which there are thousands, mean nothing compared to those first two chapters. 

However, this is not anything more than a guideline. There's a rule that if you have a citation to put together you can't find it in here, so you have to learn how to create citations. 

That's what's important. You have to understand what the fundamentals of citation are and what citation is all about. And this book more than any other book will help you do that. 

Now as I say again there's a smaller version of this that's pre-internet that is called Evidence that's also available. 

Additional resources for aspiring professional genealogists 

There's a few other things that are also available that if you just want to get your fingers wet, or your toes wet or whatever you like, that might help you get there less expensively, although I recommend that you get Evidence.

But I also find that I use these also as like I look here first to see if it'll solve my problem before I go to Evidence:

There is a quick sheet for citing sources that's available.

There is because we do so much in Ancestry, there's a quick sheet on Ancestry and database citations. All of these are prepared by Elizabeth Shown Mills who prepared the Evidence Explained book.

There’s Citing Online Historical Resources and those are the things that we work with. 

There's are other quick sheets and just because I have quick sheets in my hand, one of my favorite quick sheets is the one on the FAN Principle. If you're dealing with complex problems and you're dealing with brick walls, the FAN Principle is what you're going to be using and this is a good step up to start it.

These are probably my three most favorite quick sheets even though I’ve written a quick sheet on the Revolutionary War years ago.

Anyway so those are my top 12 books. I’m sure that you may have different books for your top 12, but these are my top 12 general reference books that I recommend that every genealogist who wants to do a good job at being a genealogist has in their resources. 

Which of these books do you already own? Which are your favorites? 

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