Books for family history

Our weekly twitterchats are becoming more well known and we had many family historians from other countries joining with us tonight discussing:

  1. Types of books: What type of books & topics do you read to help with your research? E-books or paper books? Journals? Academic theses/publications? Family history, DNA or local history? Buy or borrow books?
  2. Finding books: What are your criteria for selection? How or where do you get & share book recommendations? Use alerts, apps for reading or listing books? Popular book sellers?
  3. Finding ancestors in books: Have you found a mention or an ancestors story in a book or Google book search? Or a book written primarily about your family? Or found about your ancestors “place” in a book?
  4. Favourites: Which books are your go-to reference books? Share titles you found useful for your research. Family history fiction? Favourite authors?
Pezibear / Pixabay

Some blog posts written about family history books 

Jennifer summarized her answers to this week’s chat

Pauleen’s post about resources – books and papers

Pauleen looking beyond the internet to books

Jennifer’s post about migration books

Types of books

  • Marian: #FamilyHistory books (like Evidence Explained), #History books (hubby has #USCivilWar ancestors and my ancestors fought in #WWII). Usually borrow but occasionally buy digital books or books for reference (like Euro border changes over time)
  • Yvette: I buy many source guides, books about local history, DNA, methodology. Subscribe to about 20 magazines/journals. Use JSTOR/ProQuest for academic publications. I sometimes borrow ebooks. I buy ebooks and hardcopies.
  • Carmel: Where do you store ebooks? Many of mine are in Evernote – Entire book in Evernote, but I also have them in my documents folder on laptop, but Evernote is good if I’m out and about, can access on mobile
  • Margaret: Internet Archive is a great source of history books. I use it often. I’ve found some treasures there including the information that led to my 2xgreat grandfather’s siblings.
  • Shauna: Wow I have a copy of Graeme Davidson’s Lost Relations – loved his way of doing a family history that was interesting – have you seen it
  • Helen: Graeme’s book is a fabulous read. I aspire to write something about my family which resonates beyond the family circle and which reflects on the process like this does. I’ve read this book TWICE
  • Tara: Currently on my wishlist is a book that Mayobooks have, about women in 19thC county Galway that seems to focus on ordinary women rather than elites. I also got a great book The West of Ireland, New Perspectives on the 19th Century
  • Carmel: See Archived books searchable and for borrowing or downloading Search e.g. Genealogy, refine by History or Australia
  • Brooke: I’m gathering quite a few Australian convict related books, both non-fiction & creative non-fiction. History books eg, Australians by Keneally, Girt Vols 1 & 2 by David Hunt. But my favourite history book is Brief History of England 1911, my pa’s textbook
  • Tara: Recently I’ve bought a lot of books online from thrift shops but my guilty pleasure (ref Book Dragon) is my local auctioneer who has antiquarian book sales
  • Fran: For non family history books, my husband reads a tonne of non-fiction and donates it to a retirement home. They have a wonderful library!!! We have a few books that we cannot give away.
  • Tara: I read anything and everything. I’m a book dragon but I like the convenience of e-pubs. Often “just in time” reading but also wider foundation reading, e.g. Herds of East Galway
  • Pauleen: I choose reference materials that give me a better understanding of a topic I need to know eg migration, Famine, place, military, education, and which teach me theoretical research approaches. How could I nearly forget? I always look at the footnotes and bibliographies given in books I’ve found useful and interesting on my topics
  • Jill: I get recommendations from genies I trust and read reviews from various sources. I often chase down titles from reference lists in books I read
  • Pauleen: Should have mentioned some German newspapers are online in Google Books as well as through some sites. I’ve found insights into my Bavarian family there.
  • Sandra: My main topics is early convict history, and WW1. Starting to collect books on Passchendaele (October 1917). I prefer books over journals though if need be I’ll go searching for specific topics that can be downloaded via Journal or PDF.
  • Hilary: I have books I inherited that were written by a neighbour of my grandparents and have family mentioned
  • Jill: I don’t enjoy reading boring histories of other families. I like histories that show the methodology used to compile works in this genre.
  • Jennifer: I usually buy my family history books as they are handy to have for future research. But I have borrowed books from @PMILibrary They specialise in history of Victoria books. You can go there or order from your local library


  • Jane: I read everything and anything I come across that is relevant to what I am researching at the time
  • Kelly: I specialize in going down rabbit holes and sometimes ended up far from where I started but just where I discovered I need to be. Sometimes on a completely unrelated matter. Current deep dive. Civil War ancestors from opposing sides on same battlefield.
  • Shauna: I like buying local histories of the areas I’m researching. How to books for subject areas eg DNA. Journal articles in genealogy magazines are full of tips and tricks eg WDYTYA and Family Tree magazine. I can read them as emags through my local library.
  • Jennifer: I read quite a few ‘how to research’ books. I’ve been reading books about Scottish research lately. Can recommend @ChrisMPaton books
  • Helen: I will do general Google searches and specifically in Google scholar. I’ve also noticed recently that some articles have been indexed in Trove, then I source them, hopefully freely available online somewhere
  • Pauleen: I have a wide range of reference books including local history, and interestingly, fewer “how to” books for family history though I have my first-ever for posterity. No matter how many DNA books I read I still struggle.
  • Daniel: Well mainly, I would read books on Irish research, especially on Irish parish records. They’d be proper books, nice sizeable book!
  • Fran: I do the lot. Paper books are usually the special ones like “Evidence Explained“. E-Books to avoid more physical items to have to deal with and portability. Loads of stuff online like journals. Buy and borrow from @CaloundraFamilyHistory Library
  • Jill: I don’t read many journals for #genealogy but will sometimes source articles in academic journals if they are relevant to my research I recently paid $US30 for an article that mentioned a forebear.
  • Sharn: I often search for journal articles about topics I am researching. Among my favourite sites are JSTOR and Oxford Journals.

  • Sue: Luckily anything related to Tasmania, either my father or I will have it on our bookshelves. Depending on the topic I am researching, books specific to the topic or to the person’s occupation eg flourmilling. Try to find journals as well.
  • Jennifer: I like reading books about an area where my ancestors lived. I prefer reading real books but my family history books are often ebooks as it’s handy being able to search text
  • Helen: I read widely. Books. Theses. Search Google Scholar for academic articles of interest
  • Jill: I borrow eBooks from library if available for background reading. I prefer hard copies of #books that mention #ancestors or discuss methodology.
  • Hilary: I buy books relating to locations and occupations usually hardcopies
  • Pauleen: My target is reading material (books, theses, journals, records) relevant to the place, occupation, events/experiences of my families. About 95% of my library is paper copies, about 5% is digital. I like to annotate and mark passages.
  • Jill: I read anything that mentions people, places or events in my family tree in whichever format they are available. I don’t discriminate.

Finding books

  • Time booksellers has a great list
  • Wayback machine is great for finding books online
  • Pauleen: This is a good bookshop for those with Co Clare interests. I often buy my local journals there too.
  • Jane: Google Alerts can be useful
  • Tara: I used @thrift_ify in Ireland which is an umbrella portal Some shops are on ebay too. In UK, I’ve used e.g. @Oxfam and others found via google. Found fabulous bargains in both
  • Jen: I have an app to avoid duplicate purchases… now if I could just remember to look at it before the purchase!
  • Yvette: I buy reference works for places where I do a lot of research, either for myself or for clients. Get recommendations through newsletters of organizations and publishers, blogs, social media, etc.
  • Jill: I have a Samsung Tablet that is dedicated to reading. Stores all my ebooks and has apps for three libraries I borrow from plus a few other bookish apps.

    Sue: Ian Brand book details what each probation station, road gang etc was like in 1847 from C J La Trobe’s report, the other is how to transcribe the convict records.

  • Tara: I get academic publisher mailings. Will recommend something I think might be useful, e.g. a book about life as a domestic servant in late 19/early20C Dublin. Or will share online resources I’ve found specific to an area/topic/name of particular interest. My wishlist is huge! I’ve lately discovered a small Irish bookseller online and I’m delighted with them. Great for anyone with Connacht roots, they seem to have a good genealogical/local history selection. I would also recommend @KennysBookshop who are based in Galway and are lovely people to deal with.
  • Daniel: Topic wise for me, if I was to buy one would have to be specific to what I’m reading. I would say if I have a genealogy related question, I’d ask for recommendations on Twitter!
  • Jennifer: I do my online book buying mostly from Amazon. bookdepository, bookgrocer, worldofbooks, and fishpond. But I do love browsing in a second hand bookshop. You just never know what you will find. It’s a fave thing to do when travelling
  • Jill: I have been using Librarything to track my reading for over ten years. I follow other genies and interesting libraries on the platform. You can see my library here:  My criteria include availability, price, authority of the author, physical format, personal interest, will the book add to my knowledge. Is the book well referenced, does it have an index.
  • Pauleen: I find it easiest to look for ebooks these days if the book has to come from overseas. For books that are out of print or hard to get, I’ll use a Google alert. I have some/most of my library on LibraryThing. I add my reading to Goodreads. When travelling I always seek out local bookshops or family history societies to see if they have locally published, specific interest books or journals. Have got some good info that way
  • Sharn: I most commonly buy books through Booktopia, Amazon or on Ebay but I have excellent book shops near me that I browse for serendipitous finds
  • Jennifer: I get recommendations also from bloggers, Twitter, FB and Instagram

  • Carmel: I like to look at Shauna and Jill’s collections, have also found some genealogy societies on LT. Interesting to look through their catalogues e.g. Cairns and my local
  • Jill: Another vote for @LibraryThing. I follow you there @HicksShauna #ANZAncestryTime If you can’t find a book in a library you might find it on Librarything – then you can contact owner for a lookup
  • Brooke: Some of my favourite books have come from new found cousins: Haughley (Suffolk) History Society put me in touch with my nan’s cousins & they sent me The Book of Haughley which included pictures of more cousins & key places.
  • Mairead: The sort of magazines produced for school centenaries are great for family references if more than one generation went to the same school.
  • Alex: I also get a lot of recommendations from podcasts e.g. Genealogy Guys. SAG’s Friday afternoon sessions have provided me with heaps of suggestions
  • Sue: When travelling to somewhere in my ancestral places, I will usually buy a local history book to put on shelves when I get home.
  • Maggie: For specific books I want, I’ll set up an alert on online sites, or trawl ebay, Abebooks, Book Depository. Was much easier when living in England – so many 2nd hand books going for 1p plus postage!
  • Sylvia: The books I need have not been digitised unfortunately. Also tried to get a thesis from a university but the author will not allow it to be digitised, so in order to read it I need to go to Kingston University in London
  • Jill: For secondhand books ABE Books and eBay, lists on genealogy societies like @SocAustGen, Brotherhood Books – an online charity store, rummaging in charity stores.
  • Carmel: my bookshelves arranged digitally on LibraryThing tagged Genealogy or Genealogy – fiction (the fiction ones have some good methodology)
  • Jill: I get recommendations from the lists produced after the @SocAustGen Friday Members’ Hang Outs which are scheduled several times a year. I love hosting these sessions for the Society
  • Shauna: I find a lot of historic books on places like Google books, Project Gutenberg, Internet Archive. These are usually rare books that have been digitised and are free to download.
  • Mairead: one of my earliest discoveries was from a book in the local library. It talked about a Frank Payne who was in the Larrikins who found gold outside of Kumara. I didn’t know if this Frank Payne could be an ancestor so I asked my Aunty who told me to ask a cousin, and he knew all about it. The book about Kumara, New Zealand’s Last Gold Rush, I first found in the library. I set up an alert to find it on TradeMe (NZ version of eBay) which is eventually where I found it.
  • Hilary: I use library thing for my books and buy them at conferences or Family History events usually like the My ancestor and Tracing your series
  • Pauleen: It’s great that @nlagovau gives us access to JSTOR if we are pursuing something. Also don’t forget the journals (not society mags) published for some local history areas. I’ve often found them invaluable.
  • Jennifer: I often get recommendations from seminars and conferences. I follow authors on social media, that I’m familiar with, who I know have expertise in areas of my interest.
  • Fran: No big strategy for books. Usually follow my nose. Rabbit holes seem to find away some excellent books. Real conferences where a good speaker has a great presentation can lead to me purchasing

In books

  • Jane: A number of my husband’s Ancestors got themselves into the Cyclopedia of New Zealand. One of my relatives frequently appears in writings about Spanish East Florida and the 1795 East Florida Rebellion. No problem finding secondary sources about him, primary sources more problematic … lots of DNA links
  • Marian: My aunt was the historian of her US Army WAC unit in #WWII and I found her book in multiple libraries as well as digitized. Proud of her work documenting what Women’s Army Corps did to support the Allies!
  • Margaret: My 2xgreat grandparents feature in the book about the history of Christ Church Taita, Guardian of the Valley. I’m giving that book to my nephew. My father features in The Featherston Chronicles about the Prisoner of War Camp as he was one of the soldiers involved.
  • Yvette: There’s a book about the police in Winterswijk, the Netherlands, that features my 3-great-grandfather who was a police constable. It includes a photo of him and his wife, overview of the cases he was involved in, etc.
  • Jill: Just remembered that my convict ancestor Elizabeth Phipps got a mention in The Wanton witches of the Wanstead
  • Brooke: Just recently my ancestor got a paragraph in Kate Forsyth’s family history book ‘Searching for Charlotte‘. The information surrounding the interactions between my ancestor & Kate’s ancestor were new. Now I’m just itching to get my hands on her research, the bits that didn’t make it into the book.
  • Hilary: one of the books I have has a personal note from the author as she knew my dad
  • Maggie: I was researching an ancestor’s first husband, who died in South Africa during the First Anglo-Boer War. Came across a book that had been digitised and put online, that detailed how he died. That was definitely a “Eureka!” moment.
  • Daniel: Now this one might be more interesting than my previous answers, there was a book on the history of a school that my granddad had been teaching in for a period of time and even had a scholarship named after him… his brother had written a history on his surname so it includes some invaluable information for my tree (which I have confirmed!) and it’s not necessarily a book but there have been blog posts written about my great grandfather’s involvement in the IRA, during the 1921 Irish War of Independence.
  • Hilary: A book about Bitterne a suburb of Southampton includes photos of family members. Another book about Warminster includes a family group who are my relatives
  • Alex: My husband’s Duncan ancestors on the Gold Coast in The Kombumerri People by Rory O’Connor. My great-great-aunt who taught at a lighthouse at Bustard Head in Lighthouse of Tragedy by Stuart Buchanan. And my convict ancestor in a book about Cavan Station.

  • Sharn: I found a couple of old tattered books in a second hand bookstore about NSW trams and bought them without looking inside. One book was all about my g g grandfather. I hadn’t known he built tram carriages. Only trains. I discovered through a Google Book search that my 6th great grandfather, a Sexton at St Mary’s Islington had books of hymns published in the late 1790’s. I found one on Ebay and now own it
  • Sandra: not found any references to direct ancestors in any books, but I do have pamphlet style ‘ Boggabri – the story of our town 1957‘, which is where my grandparents were born.
  • Dara: Sadly, I’ve never found mention of known ancestors in books, apart from once when I did all the research initially and mentioned it to the author, but I love when I find old books describing my ancestral home back through the centuries.

  • Helen: No, other than in directories. That’s why I’ve started writing about them! Here’s a plug for a recent article in @PRO_Vic journal Provenance:
  • Shauna: yes usually in local histories which are a wealth of info on those who lived in a particular community. Sometimes I have found references to them in digitised ebooks eg parish registers
  • Pauleen: I was amazed to find references to Callaghan relatives from Courtown in Reilly Ace of Spies. Disappointed to find the book on the Furlong footballers from Ireland were from Tullamore but unrelated. Then there’s my book on the Kunkel family 🙂
  • Sue: My whaling captain half Samoan great grandfather who is no longer my relative through DNA is mentioned in lots of whaling books as Black Billy de Samoan.
  • Fran: No, No. Nearer ancestors are regular people. Perhaps if I extended more branches to the USA the family History Library might have something. (Wondering when the next visit might be…..) I do research places via books
  • Sharn: I have a large collection of books which mention my three time great uncle, convict, Lawrence Frayne. My latest find was accidental when I bought the convict diary of Thomas Cook who talks at length about him
  • Jennifer: In the very early days of my research I found a book written about my GG Grandmother’s family. I was very excited until I found incorrect info about my family. The author made changes for the second edition
  • Pauleen: Funnily enough I have on close reflection. I have a Qld history pic with a photo of my dad at the 1948 railway strike. Mr Cassmob’s great-uncle is mentioned extensively in books on Fromelles with references to his bequeathed docs and photos at @Library_Vic

Favourite books or authors

  • Brooke: Favourite authors: I have quite a few by Carol Baxter about writing interesting family histories. Also an excellent example of how its done, The Fabulous Flying Mrs Miller.
  • Jill: I love family history fiction. I enjoy the mysteries in books by @NathanDGoodwin and enjoyed the one by @LorineMS .Have read a few other authors. I learn about resources and research methodology through this genre. So often fiction authors do extensive research and provide useful bibliographies. So useful for background info
  • Sue: lots of fiction books I enjoy but number 1 is @NathanDGoodwin  Also enjoy MJ Lee books with Jayne Sinclair Genealogical Mysteries
  • Hilary: One book I think will be invaluable but not really got around to using much yet is not on Library Thing The Parish Atlas of England. I often find Ancestral trails : the complete guide to British genealogy and family history by Mark D Herber is a go to book I have 2 editions of this book
  • Dara: Absolutely! and his website is one of my go to places starting researching a family for the first time.
  • Maggie: My go-to ref books depend on where I’m researching, but favs definitely John Grenham’s Tracing your Irish Ancestors, Phillimore’s Atlas of Parish Registers, and all the Gibson guides.

  • Pauleen: Ances-Tree: the journal of the Burwood and District Family History society. Articles by Jenny Paterson on the German emigrant ships. Thesis by Pat O’Brien on the village of Broadford Co Clare (Uni Limerick). Oceans of Consolation for the impact and story of Irish migration; School centenaries and school indexes; The End of Hidden Ireland (Scally); Argyll 1730-1950 (McGeachy); Life and Death in the Age of Sail: the passage to Australia and others (Haines, R) I have so many I go to regularly depending on the topic. James Reilly’s Richard Griffith and his Valuations of Ireland; Dorfprozelten Teil II for my Bavarian emigrants incl George Kunkel; Farewell my Children (Richard Reid) and his other articles.
  • Jill: I shouldn’t forget the NSW Muster books and Log of Logs that sit on my shelves.

  • Sharn: Blaine Bettinger’s The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Forensic genealogy is my go to book for DNA
  • Maggie: If you love chatting and learning about #FamilyHistory, a wee plug for Talking Family History with @fiona_memories and @patientgenie – fortnightly sessions 8.30pm NZDT. This year’s subscription season starts this Friday
  • Dara: My most used book for #Genealogy is The Surnames of Ireland, Edward MacLysaght. This week it was Jim Herlihy’s The Royal Irish Constabulary, courtesy of @Rosiemonstre
  • Pauleen: As fun as genealogical fiction can be it’s not necessarily educational except to say “aha, that happens to me too”. I’ve read some fictionalised accounts of the Great Irish Famine that have brought the personal trauma home to me.
  • Shauna: reference books is harder as things change so fast in the genealogy world now. I tend to use wikis more eg FamilySearch Wiki

  • Hilary: when I started I used Beginning your family history by George Pelling…
  • Fran: I usually Google or Wikipedia things I want to quickly find out more about. Sorry books – the Internet is too easy although you do need to understand the sources of the information, its quality and make value judgements.
  • Jill: My favourite reference book is one I need now. Many US publications are irrelevant to my needs @blaine_5 being an exception. I find works by @JanetFew @Dave_Lifelines @johngrenham & many published by Pen &Sword useful.

Some more Shelfies

3 thoughts on “Books for family history

  1. Great summary Sue. This was a very popular topic. I have saved your post to Pinterest so I can check back in and read it in more depth.

  2. Jill you mentioned the book “ The Wanton Witches Of The Wanstead”, if you have access to this book could you please have a look and see if my gg Grandmother Eleanor Tomlinson gets a mention, if and when you ever get time? It would be very much appreciated. Thanks, Barry Hayward

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