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Genealogy Gift Guide: What Books Will Help Me Improve?

This gift guide focuses specifically on genealogy guides in book format that can help improve your skills.

You want a variety of educational sources to learn more about genealogy including lectures, courses, institutes, conferences, articles, and books (FYI, blogs fall under articles but don't forget to look for articles in genealogy journals and magazines, too). Books are the most affordable option for in-depth education and they are perfect for gifting (so ask for them as a gift for yourself!).

These are some of my all-time favorite titles from Genealogical.com that will help you improve your genealogy skills. These are methodology skills or general genealogy. Genealogical.com also sells books, ebooks, and an ebook subscription that covers other types of genealogy material like abstracted records and how-to guides (like "how-to read old handwriting" which is not the type of skill this guide focuses on). I also have a post listing all the reviews I've done for Genealogical.com products on The Occasional Genealogist blog. (yes, these are affiliate links, and yes, I really love Genealogical.com's selection of books and recommend these specific titles!)

Getting Started Guides/Refresher Guides

Recommendation #1

This first item I'd recommend for anyone wanting to improve their genealogy skills. I don't want to bias you based on the title of this item so I'm going to tell you why I recommend this for anyone, first.

(get it here)

This book is a very short getting started guide which is one of its advantages. You should be able to read through this in one or two sittings which makes it ideal if you want to improve your skills, regardless of where you're starting from.

What I love about this guide, for the average genealogist, is how easy it is to comprehend, making it perfect if you have never come across these basic skills or just need a refresher OR if you want confirmation that you've learned all the basics you should have.

I was an intermediate genealogist that needed confirmation I knew what I was supposed to know. It cost me $600 and five full days to get confirmation my skills were where they should be. This guide costs less than $20 and like I said, you should be able to read through it in a sitting or two (or maybe five lunch breaks if you're really short on time). If you aren't sure your skills are where they should be, this is a really affordable option that will fit into anyone's schedule.

If you know you are a beginner or know you need a beginner refresher, this guide's for you, too. If you know you've got the basics down and are looking for next-level skills, this isn't the guide for you (see one of the recommendations below, instead).

To get a little more specific, this book is Roots for Kids: Finding Your Family Stories. I know the title says "for Kids" but that's why this is such a quick read for adults. This is actually the precursor to the original Roots for Kids book (which is the book I got from the library that started me on my genealogy journey when I was 9 years old). The "Finding Your Family Stories" version is aimed at a younger audience, actually 9-year-olds possibly to young teenagers with the original book being aimed at high schoolers (but obviously determined elementary age kids can use either).

Because the aim of the "Finding Your Family Stories" book is a younger audience, it is easier for adults to quickly take in. The follow-up guide is the one with family group sheets, pedigree charts, and research logs you can photocopy as well as the education that goes along with those. There are lots of starter guides that cover similar material as the follow-up guide and an adult probably does want one of the standard (not for kids) guides if they need to learn basic recording, organizing, and research skills.

The "Finding Your Family Stories" guide is almost like the most basic concepts without the how-to (there is how-to in it but obviously aimed at a younger audience so an adult genealogist may or may not want to try the exercises). 

Every genealogist needs to understand the concepts in Roots for Kids: Finding Your Family Stories. By using a book aimed at a younger audience, an adult can understand these concepts faster than in an adult-focused guide with more complex explanations. You likely understand some of these concepts but if you missed others, this is just such a simple and inexpensive way to realize there is something you need to learn more about. If you know all of the concepts, there's no faster way to get confirmation!

Comprehensive Beginner Guide

This next recommendation is Unpuzzling Your Past. I didn't come across this until I was no longer a beginner so I can't speak to how basic it really is. I do like the layout as it makes getting started doing good genealogy a little easier.

This is a beginner guide, though. If you were to read Roots for Kids: Finding Your Family Stories and realize you do need the learn the absolute basics, I'd try this guide. 

If you read Roots for Kids: Finding Your Family Stories and already had most of the concepts, I'd go for one of the "next-level" titles below and just work on any random beginner skills by reading articles or taking an online class or lecture on that topic.

Get Unpuzzling Your Past from Genealogical.com.

Kids' Beginner Guide

I've already mentioned this title, it's the follow-up guide to my first recommendation and the guide I used when I literally first started when I was in 4th grade, Roots for Kids: A Genealogy Guide for Young People.

I used this guide independently at age 9 but I also independently decided I was going to trace my family history. It wasn't for a school project or because a relative wanted me to.

This guide covers how to do basic genealogy research so is more what an adult thinks of as a beginner guide. If you have a young person in your life that you want to get involved in genealogy, you might want to start with my first recommendation.

If in contrast, you have a young person that wants to do genealogy (it's there idea, not yours), this guide will work for them.

Next-level Guides

Once you've got the basics down you need to go to the next-level. I don't like calling this "intermediate" because every genealogist defines that differently. Some of these guides might be for a beginner but will take a specific skill to the next-level. Others require you have a strong foundation in all your genealogy skills.

I'd call this one an "Intermediate Guide"

The Sleuth Book for Genealogists is my favorite guide on this list. This is the guide I used to go from beginner to intermediate. What I like is similar to what I like about Unpuzzling Your Past, they layout is very approachable, not overly technical. This is not the last guide you'd ever need but it's a great way to become acquainted with next-level skills. Because it doesn't focus on one skill, I'd call it an intermediate guide. Get The Sleuth Book for Genealogists from Genealogical.com.

Even More Comprehensive

The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy is a staple text for U.S. researchers. However, it is a much more comprehensive guide. It's appropriate for a beginner and will take them to next-level skills but you might also find it overwhelming until you're ready for it. It depends on your personality, really.

Specific Topic Guides

The following are guides on specific topics and you can tell what topic based on the title. These are all my recommendations but I don't necessarily have individual things to say about each of them.

The Hidden Half of the Family: A Sourcebook for Women's Genealogy

Tracing Ancestors Among the Five Civilized Tribes

Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace - this book might be a big investment for you. It contains hundreds of citation examples. However, I recommend every genealogist read the introductory material in this book (too often they just skip to the citation examples).

The budget option for getting the introductory material is to buy the original version of this guide called Evidence! You can also see if there is a copy of Evidence Explained at your local library since my point is for you to read the introductory chapters rather than saying you have to have a citation guide on your shelf (they are very handy but if this guide is beyond your budget, you can learn a different citation option from this NGS guide).

Genealogical has many more specific topic guides but the above are what I'm familiar with and cover what I'd call methodology (as opposed to a skill like abstracting records).

Another great option is to check-out their "Genealogy at a Glance" and Quicksheet publications. These are a very affordable way to pick and choose specific topics.

Genealogical.com also has many titles that are records so it's worth seeing what they have if you're in the market for a genealogy book or new sources you can use. If you're looking for sources, don't forget to see what's included with their ebook subscription.