What’s on Your Bookshelf?

IMG_5690Over the course of the last few years during my genealogy pursuits, I’ve found plenty of books online, in bookstores, and in local libraries that were helpful or insightful—and plenty of others that weren’t.  Some I’ve read front to back, and others I’ve barely begun but am anxious to dig into soon. Still others I’ve read a couple of times over, highlighted extensively, or have referenced repeatedly during the course of my family research.

During the next few weeks in GeneaJourneys, I will be sharing my opinions on some of the best genealogy and history books I’ve come across so far which I’ve added to my own personal library.  I’ll also be reviewing a number of my top choices in several categories: Reference and “How To” Guides; American History; Civil War History; Chicago History; Irish History, Immigration and Naturalization, and others I consider “Just for Fun.” (Can’t get overly cerebral here!)

Oh, and when it comes to “library” I’m not just referring to books, either.  Just like the offerings at your local library, I encourage genealogists, whether hobbyists or professionals, to include DVDs, magazines, catalogs and other media in their own personal collections.

But more on those goodies in a future post.

Now, a little disclaimer: I can’t begin to be all-inclusive in my coverage of this topic because frankly, I’m just not that knowledgeable—I’ve only been at this for 4 years. Have you seen all the book offerings for sale at genealogy conferences, on bookstore shelves, and in the “929” section of the Dewey Decimal System at your local library?  Trust me, there are plenty out there, and new ones are being published all the time.

Also, the comments and recommendations I offer here are quite simply my own. They reflect my tastes, my heritage, locales I research, and specific topics of interest. Many of your interests may be similar, but you’ll certainly have some of your own as well.  In addition, I haven’t been paid for my opinions nor have I received any free copies of any of the media I mention in my posts from booksellers or publishers in an effort to push their products.  Nope, I bought, borrowed and even won every one of these books myself (though I did get a few excellent deals on some which I’ll discuss later on.)IMG_5671

Finally, I’m hoping that my insights and recommendations as a relative newbie to this field, will prove useful to the many budding genealogists just getting started who are overwhelmed with all that’s out there. They also may serve as a reminder to those of you who’ve been pursuing this interest for some time that, while there are plenty of classics out there to review once again, there are also plenty of new offerings you may not have noticed yet. Check ‘em out—they just might strike a chord as you broaden your interests and areas of research.

So, with that not so brief introduction on what I’ve got planned, here’s today’s topic:

Why build your own genealogy library?

Why, indeed?  There are as many reasons as there are genealogists, but here are a few common ones:

  • To build a collection of useful tools: “how to” books, guides, histories, DVDs, magazines, etc., to have on hand for reference or inspiration.
  • To have key resources at your fingertips as you pursue your research. The bonus? No library fines for overdue books, and no sheepish grins if you’ve kept a friend’s favorite a little too long. Relax. It’s yours! You own it! Pick it up at your leisure and peruse as you please.
  • The thrill of the hunt.  After obtaining a few basics you’ll want to flesh out your collection with more specific titles. I look at it like this: Some people love shopping. Some love collecting. Well, for genealogists, library building offers the best of both worlds as they search for and obtain those items of interest that will add to the enjoyment and ease of their genealogical pursuits. In short ~ it’s fun!

Let’s face it: By our very nature, we genealogists are lifelong learners. No pun intended, there. It’s true. We’re always adding to our knowledge base about the field in general and the areas within our field that happen to be of particular interest.

In my case, with eight great-grandparents who all left Ireland during the 1800s to settle in upstate New York and Chicago, that meant that, in addition to my first few general intro guides on getting started in genealogy, I quickly added a number of others. Most were related to the Great Potato Famine, Irish History, and how to find my Chicago ancestors. I even took a 3-credit course a few years ago through my local community college on the History of Chicago adding the texts from that class to my bookshelf to beef up my collection.

All of these sources, which I have within arm’s length in my personal genealogy library, have paid me back several times over. They’ve made it easy for me to quickly research certain aspects of what life was like over the past two hundred years for my Irish and Chicago ancestors.

So, I hope you’ll join me over the next few weeks on GeneaJourneys where I’ll be offering tips on building your genealogy library including: what kinds of books you may want to include in your collection, favorites I’ve found to be most useful, and even a few tips and pointers on where to obtain and shop for them.

So, see ya right back here  next  time when  I’ll be covering Bookshelf Basics.


This article original  appeared in Pursuing the Past with Pat Biallas  at theindepthgenealogist.com, December 2012

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10 Responses to What’s on Your Bookshelf?

  1. geniaus says:

    You can see the contents of my genealibrary at Librarything. I am bibliaugrapher there. I follow other genealogists accounts to see what they have in their libraries and what they think of them. A great site.

  2. Pat, I’m so glad that you will be offering book tips for building a genealogy library! (And “book” in the widest possible sense.) I’ve already bought some genealogy books, even though I’m fairly new at all this, and I love reading about search methods. Also I’ve fallen in love with histories & local histories (I never liked history in school). There are just too many great books out there to read in one single lifetime.

    • You’re right about that, Mariann. Did you see I ordered YOUR book from Amazon last week? Can’t wait to get it and start digging into it. Then I’m going to have it autographed by YOU when I (hopefully) will meet you at the FGS conference in Fort Wayne, IN in August.

      For my other GeneaJourneys followers: Mariann’s book is entitled “Into the Briar Patch” and you can read all about it right here: http://www.amazon.com/Into-Briar-Patch-Family-Memoir/dp/1463407777/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1371663432&sr=1-1&keywords=Into+the+Briar+Patch Here’s part of Amazon’s book description:

      This book is the story of the author’s quest to understand her family history. As she tries to untangle the briars of the past, she sees lines of cause and effect back to the early 1800s. As slaveholders, her South Carolina ancestors lived inside a psychological briar patch of American history. Journeying through family documents and cultural histories, the author explores the likely results of slaveholding upon the family character and the beliefs passed from parents to children….

      • Pat, Thank you so much for ordering my book and for the shout-out! I didn’t notice you had ordered it — Amazon doesn’t tell me. (Like the old Lily Tomlin skits on Saturday Night Live about the Phone Company — they don’t tell me because they don’t have to.)

        Fingers crossed for Fort Wayne!

      • Mariann ~ Check your “messages” on Facebook. I left you a couple there!

  3. Jana Last says:


    I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today’s Fab Finds post at http://janasgenealogyandfamilyhistory.blogspot.com/2013/06/follow-friday-fab-finds-for-june-21-2013.html

    Have a great weekend!

  4. Dorothy Vaughan says:

    Pat–never enough books and when you can mark them up. . . it’s great. Good article ,very encouraging. Dorothy

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