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The Ellen Payne Odom Genealogy Library Family Tree
The Family Tree - Jun/Jul 2002

TOOLKIT by Stuart Nixon

OK, so you've been working on the family tree for several years or more, and you no longer consider yourself a beginner. But that may just mean your "beginner's luck" has run out and you are mostly hitting stonewalls right now. Where do you go from here?

As popular as the Internet is for doing genealogy, I am hearing more and more people confess that the information they're getting off the Internet is not well documented, and in any case, there are still numerous instances where the trail runs cold, forcing the family historian to seek answers elsewhere.

If you have encountered such a roadblock and would like a friendly suggestion at this point in your search, let me recommend any of the following four books as possible additions to your genealogical toolkit. These books all have one thing in common: they are intended for people who have advanced beyond the beginner's stage but would still appreciate a little instruction and inspiration for the next phase of the journey. I picked these four not because they are the only such books on the market but because they are a good sample of what you might find in the category that I call "companion" research guides (that is, they serve as companions to more basic books). The four are:

1. Adventures in Genealogy by Patrick G. Wardell, 195 pages, $20.50. Hearing how other people solved their genealogical problems may or may not be helpful in your own situation, depending on how relevant that person's problems are to yours. In the case of Colonel Wardell (retired Army), who teaches adult education courses on genealogy and has compiled a series of books on Virginia families, reading about the lessons he learned and the techniques he developed as he dug around in his family's past over a period of almost 30 years is definitely a worthwhile exercise. His book rambles from topic to topic in a user-friendly style, detailing the frustrations he encountered as he tried to run down the facts behind various family stories (including the fate of a maternal line that followed the Oregon Trail to the West Coast). Very early in the game, he discovered that his father's memory in genealogical matters was a little fuzzy. For example, Dear Old Dad remembered an ancestor who was a major in the Union Army during the Civil War. Turns out that "Major" was not the ancestor's rank but his first name! He was named after his mother, Elizabeth Major. As for his military record, there wasn't any; he never fought in the Civil War. Wardell shares a lot of tidbits like this as he describes the many sources you too may want to investigate both close to home and on the road at this stage of your journey.

2. Pitfalls in Genealogical Research by Milton Rubincam, 74 pages, $7.95. The congenial Milton Rubincam, now deceased, was a major figure in American genealogy during the second half of the 20th century. This short collection of some of his words of wisdom touches on such matters as family traditions, similar or identical surnames, calendar changes, royal ancestry, and coats of arms. The advice tendered here remains as valid today as the day Rubincam first wrote it-a testament to the importance of not letting modern technology distract us from tried-and-true methods of study.

3. This and That Genealogy Tips by Shirley Hornbeck, 249 pages, $35.00. Prompted by the author's experience creating a web page on genealogy, this book is loaded with lists, definitions, explanations, Internet addresses, historical background, and bits and pieces of advice on numerous aspects of the research process. Unlike Pat Wardell's book, this one is entirely a compilation of facts and commentary, with no discussion of the author's personal history, although the information she provides here derives from 25 years spent developing a large database on the Hornbeck family. She has organized the book alphabetically by topic so that you can go directly to subjects of particular interest, such as cemetery research, diseases, holidays, immigration, naming patterns, occupations, religion, Social Security, and westward travel. The print is small, so you get a lot of bang for your buck.

4. The Sleuth Book for Genealogists by Emily A. Croom, 290 pages, $18.99. The latest in a series of "how to" books by the energetic Ms. Croom, this is a book of "strategies for more successful family history research." The format of the book is strictly practical, laying out Ms. Croom's many ideas, tips, reminders, warnings, and "brick wall busters" in a step-by-step plan. As a fan of detective stories, she has sprinkled quotes from Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, and other famous sleuths throughout the book to emphasize certain points about good investigative techniques. She also includes case histories from her own family to show how such techniques might be applied to your inqueries. One technique she explains at length is "cluster genealogy," where you broaden the focus of your research to look at relatives, neighbors, and associates of the person you are tracking. This is a level of sophistication that most web crawlers will never approach, but it is very much a strategy that any serious genealogist needs to understand.

You can obtain these books from their publishers, as follows:

  • Adventures in Genealogy Heritage Books 800-398-7709

  • Pitfalls in Genealogical Research Ancestry 800-262-3787

  • This and That Genealogy Tips Clearfield Company 800-296-6687

  • The Sleuth Book for Genealogists Betterway Books 800-289-0963

Return to June/July 2002 Index


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