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Reference Resources for Genealogist Patrons

The plethora of genealogical reference books can overwhelm any librarian trying to decide what to add to a collection. Here are my recommendations for the must-haves for any reference collection.

Ancestry’s Red Book: Published by the behemoth research website,, this book is the bible for United States genealogical research. Covering all 50 states in alphabetical order, the book begins with a brief history of each state/territory, and then delves into the major record sets including vital records, church records, census records, military records, probate and court records, maps, institutions with major genealogical holdings, major reference books of particular interest in each state, and more.

One of the things that makes this book valuable for all levels of genealogical researcher is that the information contained allows one to know immediately what is available and where. Granted, there will be updates to websites, etc. but this ties the existing records to a date and time (2004 was the last publication date). This book will get your patron started – no matter what their experience level.

Map Guide to the US Federal Census: 1790-1920, Thorndale, William and Dollarhide, William. This book is a fantastic resource when tracing a family through the census during the westward expansion. Each state/territory is profiled for all the decennial censuses through 1920 when the boundaries were solidified. If you cannot find a family in a particular county, it’s possible that they were living in the same place but the boundary line changed. Also noted on the maps is which counties, if any, do not exist and other idiosyncrasies with the census records that would affect research into them.

The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy, Greenwood, Val D. This book is in the 3rd edition and a valuable resource on American records. It covers the fifty states as the Red Book does but has greater detail about the whys and hows of records creation in the United States. It provides greater detail about why records were constructed and where they may have ended up. A must read for serious researchers who have gone past the “low hanging fruit” of their research. A great help to Reference Librarians as well who are trying to find information for their patrons.

Genealogist’s Handbook for New England Research, 5th Edition, Leclerc, Michael J., Ed. 2012. This is a complete revamp of the 4th edition into a much more user friendly resource for New England research. Its structure reminds me a bit of the Red Book too but the information covers only the six New England states. Because of this, it is far greater in detail about the repository holdings and records available for these states. I see it as a complement to the Red Book.

I own all of these (and many more) and they are at the library where I work. I have not been given them for compensation to write these reviews. I use them in my research constantly – as their worn pages will attest. I teach from them, learn from them, and recommend them to everyone who asks me what I would recommend for basic reference resources. I have been researching my family history for thirty years and have used them consistently during that time.

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Content copyright © 2018 by Christine Sharbrough. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Christine Sharbrough. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Christine Sharbrough for details.


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