A Practical Exercise in Self-directed Learning


My shelf of reference books has disappeared. I guess I hoped it would follow me home when I retired from the library last month. It did not. Some other genealogy librarian will be intrigued by my choices. I need to rebuild the collection so I turned to Joy Reisinger for help. Her advice was right at hand, waiting. Here's what I learned from Joy.

Conveniently, Joy's sage advice is found on pages 63 to 82 in Professional Genealogy, A Manual for Researchers, Writers, Editors, Lecturers and Librarians, edited by Elizabeth Shown Mills and published in 2001 by Genealogical Publishing Company.

As I read this chapter I hear Joy telling me that my personal genealogy library is not so much a collection of materials in which I look up names, as it is a collection of materials from which I learn. She tells me my collection should be a balance of Instructional Works, General References and Source Materials.

Instructional Works: These are guides to methods, sources and genealogical principles.This might include things like The BCG Standards Manual; Tracing Your Ancestors in the Public Record Office; and Evidence! Citation and Analysis for the Family Historian. But it should alson include a scholarly journal or two. In my library its the National Genealogical Society Quarterly, an excellant source of case studies, and book reviews.

General Reference: Joy tell me this refers to atlases, gazetteers, dictionaries, legal codes etc. Here's a few from my bookshelf: The Handy Book of Parish Law published by the Wiltshire Family History society in 1995; my trusty friend, A Genealogical Gazetteer of England; and Fitzhugh's Dictionary of Genealogy: A Guide to British Ancestry Research.

Source Materials are of course all those books, CD.s microforms and source -oriented materials you accumulate in doing your own research– only expanded to cover what you need as a professional whether a teacher, lecturer or researcher.

Now here's your assignment. Review your own bookshelf. Sort the stuff into the three categories, and look for deficiencies. Perhaps in the first group you realize you need of the classics like Val Greenwood's Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy and in the second group you figure that you need some sort of legal reference tool to explain terms you enxcounter in early 19th century wills and contracts. You need a purchasing plan. I could go into detail here and now– but that for another time. If you are getting anxious, go check out Joy's chapter yourself.

Your comments are welcome. And tell me if you think there is a lecture topic here that others could benefit from!


7 responses to “A Practical Exercise in Self-directed Learning

  1. Ken,
    All good books although, of course, those of us to the south of Canada would substitute a couple of titles. I might also add that any complete library will include general histories dealing with one’s areas of interest and/or specialization — be it geographic, ethnic, or whatever. For instance, Howe’s Historical Collections of Ohio, first published in the 1840’s, is invaluable for anyone doing research in Buckeye territory. A more modern title would be George Knepper’s “Ohio and Its People.” Finally, to get a real understanding of the lives of the inhabitants, works of historical fiction can be both entertaining and quite instructive. Conrad Richter’s “The Awakening Land” trilogy is one such work. It’s also immensely popular with my college-level Ohio history students.

  2. Hi Bob,
    Thanks for the comments. My examples were drawn from my bookshelf. They might be on Dean Hunter’s or Paul Milner’s or Ryan Taylor’s bookshelf too.

    Your examples and comments are on target.Thank you

  3. Hi Ken,

    Since I am mostly interested in American resources, my own bookshelf contains:

    1) The BCG Standards Manual
    2) Evidence, by ESM
    3) The Handy Book for Genealogists
    4) Land and Property Research by Wade Hone
    5) They Became americans by Loreeta Szucs
    6) Your Guide to the Federal Census by Kathy Hinckley
    7) The Family Tree Problem Solver by Marsha Rising
    8) The County Courthouse Book by Elizabeth Bentley
    9) Ancestors of american Presidents by Gary Boyd Roberts
    10) Digging for Genealogical Treasure in New England Town Records by Ann Smith Lainhart
    11) Plymouth Colony by Eugene Stratton
    12) Town Records of roxbury MA by Dunkle and Lainhart
    13) Pioneers of Masachusetts by Charles Pope
    14) History of Medfield 1650-1886 by Charles Tilden
    15) Vital Records of Townsend MA by Henry Hallowell
    16) Managing a Genealogical Project by Bill Dollarhide
    17) Researcherts Guide to American Genealogy by Val Greenwood
    18) The Oxford Guide to Family History by David Hey
    19) Producing a Quality Family History by Patricia Hatcher
    20) several surname books…
    21) quite a few “social history” books like “Good Wives” and “A Midwife’s Tale” by Laurel Ulrich.

    I subscribe to NGS, NEHGS, TAG, and ESOG journals, read The Genealogist and several more at libraries, and collect NYGBR, RIGR at book sales.

    I also subscribe to Family Tree Magazine and read Everton’s Helper at the library.

    Bob Keener mentioned historical fiction – Juliana Smith is running a series on her Family Circle 7/24 blog about these books. James Michener, Edward Rutherford, William Martin, John Jakes and Jeff Shaara come immediately to mind.

    My bookshelves are full and I have no more room – help! My wife thinks I am a packrat. God save me if we ever have a big earthquake here…

    Cheers — Randy

  4. Barbara Schenck

    I’ve been sorting and organizing my own library recently after discovering I have two copies of THE MAKING OF THE CORNISH LANDSCAPE, a situation that could have been avoided if I had a better idea of what I actually have hidden in all the bookcases in my house (not to mention boxes in the attic).

    And the best help for that I’ve found recently is a website at http://www.librarything.com — it allows 200 books to be catalogued free simply upon signing in. Of course most of us who would bother have far more than 200 books. So I now have a lifetime membership. It searches libraries and amazon and worldwide repositories for books entered. There have been only a handful so far I haven’t found, and I have a lot of British books as well as some Australian and New Zealand titles.

    It’s worth a look if you are trying to get organized. For those who already are, I’m in awe. As a former librarian, you probably have all this sort of thing down pat, Ken. And it does not always make distinctions between editions, so for those who are going to catalogue their books meticulously, you might want to not bother. But for those of us who just want to make sure we don’t have two copies of Westcountry Words and Ways, it’s a good deal.

    And no, I have nothing to gain by anyone who looks at the site. I found it recommended on the ancestry.com weekly newsletter).

  5. Barb,
    I checked it out. It does look interesting. Thanks for your commnts!

  6. I, too, have recently found librarything.com. I’m intrigued. But I’ve carried anal retentiveness a bit further. I have catalogued and classified my collection according to the Dewey Decimal System! I got tired of knowing I had that book on Williamsburg, Virginia, foodways, for example, but not being able to lay my hands on it! Genealogy is on a special shelf all its own, but many books in my collection on history, folk songs, social history, sociology, and some of the fiction are also applicable.

    I’ve accumulated a number of the books in Joy’s chapter in Professional Genealogy, and more besides.

    I have:

    1. Professional Genealogy, Mills, ed.
    2. Evidence! by Mills
    3. The US National Archives Catalogues of Census Microfilm,
    1790 through 1930.
    4. The Circulating Library Catalog of the NEHGS (2 vols.)
    5. Reading Early American Handwriting, by Sperry
    6. Managing a Genealogical Project, Dollarhide
    7. Discover Your Scottish Ancestry, by Holton & Winch
    8. Numbering Your Genealogy: Basic Systems, Complex
    Families and International Kin, by Curran, Crane & Wray
    9. What Did They Mean by That? A Dictionary of Historical
    & Genealogical Terms, Old & New, by Drake
    10. The German Research Companion, by Riemer (for research
    on our son-in-law’s lines)
    11. Planters of the Commonwealth, by Banks
    12. Early Massachusetts Marriages, Prior to 1800, by Bailey
    13. Third Supplement to Torrey’s New England Marriages
    Prior to 1700, by Sanborn
    14. Torrey’s (on CD) from the NEHGS
    15. Our Family, Our Town: Essays on Family and Local
    History Sources in the National Archives, comp. by
    16. Mayflower Families Through Five Generations: Vol. 16,
    Part 1: John Alden, by Woodworth-Barnes
    17. Family History: A Legacy for Your Grandchildren, NEHGS
    18. Along the Ohio Trail: A Short History of Ohio Lands, by
    Dean and Speas
    19. 3 Issues of The Indiana Genealogist
    20. Genealogical Writing in the 21st Century, by Hoff
    21. The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy, 3rd. ed.,
    by Greenwood.
    22. Georgia Genealogical Research, by Schweitzer
    23. Where to Write for Vital Records: Births, Deaths,
    Marriages, Divorces, U.S. Centers for Disease Control
    24. Uncovering Your Ancestry Through Family Photographs,
    by Taylor
    25. the Handybook for Genealogists, Everton Press
    26. Ancestry’s Red Book
    27. The Source, Szucs & Leubking
    28. Land & Property Research in the U.S., by Hone
    29. Bringing Your Family History to Life through Social
    History, by Sturdevant
    30. Manual for Indiana Genealogical Research, by P. & R.
    31. Indiana Source Directory and Research Guide, by
    32. Ohio Genealogical Resources, by Heisey
    33. The Great Migration Newsletter, Vols. 1-5, NEHGS
    34. The Great Migration Newsletter, Vol.s 6-10, NEHGS
    35. Heads of Families, 1790, Massachusetts, U.S. GPO
    36. Guide to Genealogical Research in the National Archives
    of the United States
    37. BCG Genealogical Standards Manual

    I also have several resources on CDs, such as Plymouth County (Massachusetts) Church Records, Court Records, and Vital Records, as well as issues of the New England Historical and Genealogical Quarterly, the National Genealogical Society Quarterly, and more popular magazines such as New England Ancestors, Heritage Quest, Everton’s, the Florida Genealogist, and the Southern Genealogists Exchange Quarterly.

    You might wonder why I don’t save some money and just go to the library for some of these. Most of them would be in the Reference section and not circulating; the only time I have to use them is at night or on weekends, not good times for library hours, and we live in the country, rather far from everything. As well, we live in a small county with a small library system, with a small (but much improved) genealogy department. For really good research, I need to go into Jacksonville, and I just don’t get there very often.

    Besides, I’m a migratory lifeform with a tropism for bookstores!

  7. karen,
    Its OK to use Dewey for your library. But my librarian retired!

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