I’m always on the lookout for good, general reference books. I know they are indispensable in my research and are packed with good how to’s and references.
The book I’m looking at today is The Genealogy Sourcebook by Sharon Debartolo Carmack (publisher: Lowell House). It caught my eye because of the forward by my favorite genealogist, Marsha Hoffman Rising.What the Book Is
The author freely admits there are a number of good “how to” books already on the market. Indeed she lists several in Chapter 4 under Genealogy Education. Her goal in this book leans more on method than on resources; more on hard-won tips and techniques than on repositories, though she does talk about resources and repositories.
The book is an excellent introduction and great refresher for those who have been doing this awhile. Carmack tells us this book is a culmination of all of that information you learn from other genealogists as you go about your research. It’s the insights you gain along the road and wish you had when you started.
What You’ll Find
The book begins with a very honest discussion of what genealogy is and isn’t. It is a long-term, often lifetime pursuit. It can be as budget-friendly or costly as you want to make it. What you do if your adopted? She explains what to do if you or your ancestor is adopted. She walks the reader through the good, the bad, and the ugly of genealogy research. Everything you should know or wish you knew when you started.
Then Carmack takes the reader by the hand and guides them through the most recommended steps to getting started and progressively learning. She talks about how to get started, the forms, and how to get and keep organized. She introduces the foundational research every genealogist does by looking through old photos, the good stuff in the attic and talking to Aunt Muriel. Right up front, she brings up the subject of networking with other genealogists through societies and online communities. Genealogy, she acknowledges, can be a solitary pursuit, but not if you find “others like you.” She continues with a discussion of the many means to learn about this study – conferences, reference books, formal education, workshops and more.
In Chapter 7 she demystifies the research repository – those sometimes intimidating locations where the keep all the good records. She tells where to find what and how to approach research at everything from a local library to a National Archives. If you’re interested in doing research in a new venue, but not sure how, check out what she has to say.
Chapter 6 similarly prepares the road for a road trip. I’ve heard horror stories of well-intentioned genealogists spending precious time, energy, and money – sometimes lots of money – on a road trip to an ancestral home only to come away disappointed. As they say, “don’t let this happen to you.” Read this chapter.
You know, one of the unsung heroes of genealogy research are the finding aids. It’s a new concept to many and an unfamiliar concept to most. Finding aids are like sign posts. They point you in the right direction without giving you the ultimate answer. Carmack “guides” the reader through a litany of books and journals that guide us into unfamiliar family history territories. Guides to records, guides to locations, transcripts, abstracts and indexes, periodicals and more become less off-putting once you know a little more about them
Before the age of the Internet the most common way to do family research was by mail. You want a birth certificate, write for it. This art while not quite so prevalent today is still relevant. Everything is NOT on the Internet. Know when, why, and how to research at a distance can get you over that brick wall you’ve been frustrated by. Carmack tells us more.
She concludes by applying the above knowledge in a couple of case studies addressing common research problems. She looks at researching European Immigration and 19th Century Frontier Farmers. Finally, she acknowledges that sometimes everyone – even professionals – need to turn to a professional genealogist. She offers advice on this, too.
Carmack writes in a very friendly, conversational style with a clear understanding of having been there before. I think this is part of the reason I like this book, because Hoffman-Rising writes in a very similar manner. The information is practical, accessible, and valuable.
It’s time worth spending with The Genealogy Sourcebook by Sharon Debartolo Carmack.