Starting to do family history can seem a daunting task! Although there is now lots of information online with the help of websites such as Ancestry and Find My Past there are also numerous books which are a fantastic, tangible source of information and knowledge. These are excellent in providing a background of the type of sources you might come across, and why records appear in the they way they do! Forewarned is forearmed, as they say…
I asked an experienced colleague what she would recommend (thanks Vicky!) and she came up with two titles from our reference library:
‘The Oxford Companion to Family and Local History’ by David Hey
David Hey’s guide is about as comprehensive as you can get! The thematic articles range from getting started with your family tree, to dealing with tracing your background by nationality and ethnicity, to searching agricultural and industrial histories. There is an absolutely indispensable A-Z glossary of terms you might come across and a useful list of all Record Offices and Special Collections in the UK.
‘Tracing your Ancestors through Local History Records’ by Jonathan Oates
Oates’ useful guide is easy on the eye, with illustrations and photographs of examples of the types of local history records that you might encounter in your search. It explains the historical background to records in England, and looks at lots of different sources: books, journals, illustrations, maps and newspapers. Although parish registers are the most popular way of searching a family tree, these other sources can provide a wider feel for the time and place family members lived, and how they lived.
I’d also recommend ‘Essential Maps for Family Historians’ by Charles Masters – it’s incredible how much information maps have – from Estate maps, enclosure and tithe maps to The National Farm Survey.
In addition to the more general guides, there are also specialist books which can help you trace ancestors who were in the Armed Forces, in a lunatic asylum, worked as a coalminer, lived in the colonies, in the clergy or were travellers, to name a few! The series of books ‘My Ancestor was a…’published by the Society of Genealogists are well illustrated and explain in plain language the historical background that these people would have lived in as well as the sort of records you could search to find information about them.
There is also a light-hearted look at the potential pitfalls of researching your family in ‘Granny was a Brothel Keeper’, which provides useful tips on how to avoid being led up the garden path, and a subtle warning about not believing everything you might see (and hear from well-meaning family members!) Written in no-nonsense terms (as you may have gathered from the title), there are real life researchers’ stories and lessons to be learned.
Of course, if you are desperate to get back to a computer screen, you might find ‘The Family History Web Directory’ extremely handy!
All the books mentioned can be found in our Local Studies library, along with our research guides at the Enquiry Desk. Libraries also have subscriptions to the Ancestry and Find My Past websites, so these can be accessed on the Library computers.
Please let us know if you have any personal recommendations or tips when researching family history, and we’ll be happy to pass them on!