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Local and Family History: Some Genealogy Books

Updated on November 13, 2012

A Monster at the Top of the Tree

Family History Books

Family History ~ or genealogy ~ is a fascinating and addictive hobby.

Hundreds of books have been published on the subject.

This item will look at just a few of them.

* * * * *

I own hundreds of books and 'History' probably features most strongly ~ including 'Family History' / Genealogy!

I love history and have been fascinated by our human origins for as long as I can remember. I loved to listen to tales of my parents, grandparents and great grandparents ~ and I often pored over royal pedigrees in books.

After a teacher mentioned her genealogical research, one day, I decided to announce to the family that I was going to start on ours. I was 16, full of enthusiasm, but lacking in information! How should I go about researching our family tree?

Finally my parents came to the rescue My mother heard genealogist Meda Mander being interviewed on the BBC, and she bought her book as a birthday gift for me.

Over the past 30+ years, I have collected quite a few books relating to genealogy. Some are probably way out of date by now ~ maybe I should do some pruning ~ but others are fairly up-to-date and remain very useful. Others are just enjoyable to read!


Please note that I am English ~ with English, Welsh, Irish and Greek ancestry. This has affected my personal choice in books.

Two American Family History Magazines

Meda Mander's Book

'How to Trace Your Ancestors' by Meda Mander

This was the first family history book I owned. When my Mum heard Meda Mander being interviewed on BBC radio, she immediately knew that her, then, recent publication, 'How to Trace Your Ancestors', was the book for me!

'How to Trace Your Ancestors' was published in 1977, by Granada (Mayflower Books), having previously been published, in 1976, by David and Charles, under the title: 'Tracing Your Ancestors'.

It was a great little book and it set me on the path to my favourite ~ and possibly most addictive ~ hobby. I loved it! It may be out of date now, and I have bought newer books, but it still has pride of place on my 'family history' book shelf!

Meda Mander was born in Essex, England, and studied at London University.


Another early favourite:

'A Monster at the Top of the Tree', by Kathleen Menhinick Dewey was another early favourite.

Published by Carousel Books, in 1975, it is really intended for children ~ but it is great fun!

Ms Menhinick Dewey traces her ancestry into the realms of mythology ~ hence the 'monster'!

Surname Books On My Shelves - A List:

'Discovering Surnames; their origin and meanings'- J W Freeman, Shire Publications

'Your Surname Guide' ~ From 'Your Family Tree'

'A Dictionary of English Surnames' by P H Reaney (+ R M Wilson) Oxford 1997

Specialist Books On My Shelves - A List:

'Military Records' ~ Your Family Tree Magazine

'A~Z of Genealogy Websites' ~ Your Family Tree Magazine

'Trace Your First world War Ancestors' ~ Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine

'Family History - Cultures and Faiths' ~ Michael Gandy

'Catholic Missions and Registers, 1700-1880' ~ Michael Gandy

'Illegitimacy, A McLaughlin Guide' ~ Eve McLaughlin

'My Ancestor Moved in England and Wales' ~ Anthony J Camp

Some of My Family History Books - A List:

'Genealogy for Beginners' by Arthur J Willis ~ 1976 (first published in 1955)

'A Catalogue of British Family Histories', compiled by T R Thomson, ~ Research Publishing Co and Society of Genealogists, 1976 (first published 1928)

'Everyone Has Roots', Anthony Camp - W H Allen & Co, 1978

'Discover Your Ancestors', Hugh Peskett ~ Arco Publishing (New York), 1978

'This Ancestry Business', Birmingham and Midland Society for Genealogy and Heraldry,1979 (first published 1973)

'Tracing Your Family Tree', Victor Price - Brewin books, 1989

'Short Cuts in Family History', Michael Gandy - Countryside Books + The Federation of Family History Societies, 1994

'Tracing Your Ancestors', D M Field ~ Treasure Press, 1987

'Time, Family and Community', (Professor) Michael Drake - Open University and Blackwell Publishing, 1994

'Beginning Your Family History', George Pelling - Federation of Family History Societies, 1995

'Explore Your Family's Past' ~ Readers' Digest, 2000

'The Family History Project' ~ Published by The National Archives, in association with the History Channel, 2004

'How to Trave Your Family Tree in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales', Kathy Chater ~ Hermes House, 2004

Television Tie-Ins

In 2001, Harper Collins published 'The People Detective; discovering your family roots', by Tom MacGregor. It accompanied the BBC 2 series of the same name. According to the back cover, it 'focuses on discovering lost or buried family history by uncovering an ancestral trail'.

'Who Do You Think You Are?' is another very popular BBC TV series about genealogy ~ with tie-in books, DVDs, etc.

The Joys of Family History

'The Joys of Family History: All You Need to Start Your Family Search', by Simon Fowler, is a guide from the National Archives. It is a handy little ('concise') paperback book, with a wealth of illustrations in both black + white and colour.

Family Tree Problem Solver

'The Beginner's Guide to Tracing Your Roots' - Diane Marelli

I bought this book because I was so impressed by the recommendations ~ and they were right!

Diane Marelli writes autobiographically, telling the story of her research as she goes along ~ with tremendous enthusiasm. The book is in the form of a research diary.

It has been described as 'inspirational' and the Surrey Advertiser called it 'the best easy-to-read guide you will come across ...'

First published in 2003, my copy is dated 2007 ~ published by How To Books Ltd.

DNA and Genealogy

DNA and Family History - Chris Pomery

This is the only book I own which is specifically concerned with both genealogy and genetics ~ a fascinating combination. We have had our 'Y' DNA (via my brother) and I think that this is the future of family history!

Chris Pomery is a member of the Guild of One-Name Studies, who lectures in his subject for family researchers.

The forward is written by one of my favourite authors, Steve Jones. I have been to one of his fascinating lectures ~ he is the author of several books, including 'Y: The descent of Man', 'Almost Like a Whale' and 'The Language of the Genes'.

Learn more here:

Copyright Tricia Mason. Dec. 2010
Copyright Tricia Mason. Dec. 2010


I think that all family historians are aware of the importance of surnames / family names in their research, but what about Christian names / forenames? ~ Yes, it seems that they, too, can be more important than was previously thought.

George Redmonds has written a very interesting book called 'Christian Names in Local and Family History', (The National archives, 2004.) The foreword, by Hull University's Peter McClure, begins: 'Christian name are historically of great interest because they can tell us much about families, communities and culture in past times. Yet the value of Christian names as a tool of historical research has been little appreciated. ...'

David Hey, who edited 'The Oxford Companion to Local and Family History', has written 'Family Names and Family History', (Hambledon and London, 2000). In his preface, Hey notes, 'We have all wondered, from time to time, about how we got our surnames and what they mean. ...' How right he is!

Ancestral Trails - Mark Herber

When you hold a copy of 'Ancestral Trails', you really do feel that you have the answers to (almost) all of your genealogical questions, right at your fingertips. It is a large book, containing a lot of material! Yet it is written, not like an encyclopedia, but in a very friendly manner. Mark Herber is your expert companion.

According to the front cover this is 'the complete guide to British genealogy and local history' and it won the Library Association McColvin Medal for 'Outstanding Reference Work'. I have the second edition.

Walking with Your Ancestors

Teach Yourself Tracing Your Family Tree - Stella Colwell

'Teach Yourself Tracing Your Family Tree' by Stella Colwell, is published by Hodder and Stoughton (1997).

On the back cover of my copy, I found this: 'Teach Yourself Tracing Your Family Tree is simply the most practical and comprehensive guide to tracing your family history that you can buy.'

About Ms Colwell, it states that she has 'worked at the College of Arms, London, for twelve years' and was the 'first woman chairman of the Executive Committee of the Society of Genealogists'.

'The Parish Chest' by W E Tate

'The Parish Chest' is an oft-quoted and well respected book, first published in 1946 by Cambridge University Press. My copy, dated 1983, was published by Phillimore & Co Ltd.

According to the book description at Amazon: 'The purpose of the book is to illustrate and encourage research into local history by means of surviving documents and fragments; it opens a way of actual study for many would-be local historians. Mr Tate's knowledge of documents and of the scattered literature dealing with them enabled him to describe and illustrate the evolution of local government'.

Copyright Tricia Mason. Dec. 2010
Copyright Tricia Mason. Dec. 2010


Many of those who are interested in genealogy are also fascinated by heraldry. It is a very interesting subject, but I only seem to have one book specifically on this subject ~ and it is aimed at youngsters: it is 'Heraldry' by Rosemary Manning. It is clear and straightforward, so easy to follow for beginners. That is often the joy of books for children ~ provided that they are of good quality! This book was first published by A and C Black, in 1966 and my copy is dated 1971.


Debrett's is a well-known name when it comes to pedigrees, so it is not surprising that they brought out a 'guide to tracing ancestry'. Called 'Debrett's Family Historian', and published in 1981 by Webb and Bower, it was authored by Noel Currer-Briggs and Roystan Gambier. A third edition was published in 1999.

Essential Guide to American County and Town Sources

Who Do You Think You Are?

'Who Do You Think You Are?' is a number of BBC TV series, a magazine, a set of books, a computer programme, a genealogy convention, and who can say what else!

I love it!

I do not know if the WDYTYA books and magazines are any better than any others, but they give readers the encouragement that they need to succeed with their research.

This may be a hobby, but it is often pursued at the level of post-graduate researchers and books need to address this. Similarly, family historians may be novices, with only a basic education. Books need to address this, too. I feel that the WDYTYA books do this. They are bright, clear and enthusiastic about their subject. And they don't just tell us, they show us ~ via the celebrities who research their ancestry through the TV series.

There is now a USA series, too! And a book to go with it!

I have three books with this title ~ The first is a basic 'Essential Guide to Tracing Your Family History'; the second encourages readers to 'Trace Your Family History Back to the Tudors'; the third is a 'definitive' 'Encyclopedia of Genealogy'.

Copyright Tricia Mason. Dec. 2010
Copyright Tricia Mason. Dec. 2010

On My Wish List: Joseph A Amato - 'Jacob's Well: A Case for Rethinking Family History'.

Don't I have enough family history / genealogy books?!

Well, I suppose that I do, but there is one that appeals to me, because it is a bit different. It is by United States academic, Joseph A Amato, and it is called 'Jacob's Well: A Case for Rethinking Family History'.

This is family history researched by a university lecturer. It puts the subject where it should be ~ in the realms of real academic historical research.

Quote from a reviewer:

'In this marvelous book, Joseph A. Amato introduces us to his parents ... Grandmas ... Great-grandfather Jacob of the book's title, and a tree full of ...[relatives]. The reader travels to Italy, Detroit, Acadia, Maine, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. .....'

'.... Amato's prose is so lovely and his metaphors so well turned that they often forced me to stop and marvel.'

[Annette Atkins ~ Saint John's University/College of Saint Benedict]

Deep DNA Ancestry

Some people may not class this as 'family history', but it is definitely about our ancestors and I find it truly fascinating. Our DNA takes us back in time ~ and that is amazing!

Copyright Tricia Mason. Dec. 2010
Copyright Tricia Mason. Dec. 2010


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    • Trish_M profile image

      Tricia Mason 7 years ago from The English Midlands

      I hope that you will enjoy them, JamaGenee :)

    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 7 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      I've put both on my Wish List at Amazon. ;D

    • Trish_M profile image

      Tricia Mason 7 years ago from The English Midlands

      Hi :)

      I haven't read any of Amato's work, yet, but I was impressed by what I heard about him.

      I mentioned him on this hub, because his books are on my 'wish list' ~ even though they refer to America, rather than to Britain.

      His books:

      'Rethinking Home: A Case for Writing Local History'

      'Jacob's Well: A Case for Rethinking Family History'

    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 7 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      Joseph A. Amato? Unfamiliar with the name, but I'll definitely be looking him up. Thanks!

    • Trish_M profile image

      Tricia Mason 7 years ago from The English Midlands

      Hi JamaGenee :)

      Yes, indeed, 'Ancestral trails' is a must-have, I think.

      I agree with you about Genealogy being taken more seriously. It is happening with Local History, already, which is great.

      The work you mention sounds really very worthwhile! I was reading about Joseph A Amato and his interest in this subject. Maybe it's actually starting to happen!

    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 7 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      What a great collection of genealogy books! My copy of "Ancestral Trails" is at least 20 years old and I love it! It really is chock full of information you didn't know you need - until you need it!

      However, I'm not surprised that your addiction to genealogy grew out of your love of history. They go hand in hand on so many levels. Someday I hope to see genealogy taken out of the hobby category and elevated to degree-level status in colleges and universities. Years ago, in fact, a professor in Maryland and I were working on that very thing until his ill health brought the project to a halt.

    • Trish_M profile image

      Tricia Mason 7 years ago from The English Midlands

      Hello Askjanbrass. Thanks for looking.

      And thanks for that site info. I just joined :)

    • askjanbrass profile image

      askjanbrass 7 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      I like your hub :)

      Have you tried It's another one of those ancestry sites.

    • Trish_M profile image

      Tricia Mason 7 years ago from The English Midlands

      Thank you, Arthur and Bob, for having a look and making such interesting and positive comments! :) :)

      We all have fascinating family histories ~ it's just a case of seeking and finding. Even the humble 'ag lab' is interesting in my opinion :)

      Finding a Mercer / mercerizing link must have been very exciting!

      Manchester's history ~ around the Industrial revolution ~ is really interesting!

      I actually find Birmingham history fascinating. There is much more there than most people would guess.

      Thanks again:) :)

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 7 years ago from UK and Mexico

      I walked back in time a couple of years ago and found my family on mum's side (Mercers) were big in the cotton industry in Blackburn area. They invented "Mercerizing," which is to do with making dyes (fast) I believe. I also have a big naturalist who put jam on his arms and let wasps settle all over him! Curiously, I am that way inclined, too. I, however, have been the only bandit! Good hub voted "Up." Bob

    • arthurchappell profile image

      arthurchappell 7 years ago from Manchester, England

      A very comprehensive list and well presented hub. On my dad's side of the family the family tree was traced by one of my relatives, so I know i'm descended from the French Hugenots, and local history - of Manchester, England in my case, is a subject I love lots

    • Trish_M profile image

      Tricia Mason 7 years ago from The English Midlands

      Thank you for your kind words, Moncrieff ~ and good luck with your family history research. I think that there is always going to be something worthwhile to find out, so it's good to have a go. :)

    • moncrieff profile image

      moncrieff 7 years ago from New York, NY

      Lovely hub! And very relevant, for I spent an entire evening yesterday trying to search for my ancestors online. I have these genealogy waves every now and then. I'm quite envious of the English: their compact island has most records intact in church archives and official register entries... and it's easier to navigate :)

      It's harder to search in places ravaged by revolutions and wars and where the very subject of genealogy was forbidden for decades and most people kept silent about their ancestors, so new generations grew orphaned of their past. It's also a nightmare for immigrants who are far away from the places their ancestors inhabited and therefore it's harder for them to get access to some archived information.

      I always support people's research about their ancestry. It makes history truly a part of our blood. Voted up.


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