My Pick: Research Guides

Posted July 9, 2016

As genealogists, whether professionals or newbies, we love discoveries. Finding that elusive ancestor or document is a positively buzz-inducing event. But genealogical discoveries aren't limited to uncovering your family's past. With family history research, many exciting learning opportunities exist in the form of blogs, workshops and other informational resources. Research guides, however, are an indespensible part of a genealogist's toolbox and impart knowledge new and old. These guides come in many forms: books, charts, websites, etc. Their authors range from independent researchers to county genealogical societies to institutions of higher learning. Whatever form a research guide takes, it offers newcomers a fresh skill set and oftentimes a refresher course for veterans of the hunt.

My specialty area is Texas. It's a huge state (even bigger if you count the Republic of Texas borders!) with the highest number of counties in America at a whopping 254.1 It has a unique history having been it's own republic from 1836 to 1845 and being subject to the jurisdiction of six different countries throughout it's history.2 Naturally, I need some serious research guides. Now it becomes a question of how many and which ones? The options can be very overwhelming, but they needn't be. Below you'll find a few of my personal tricks to clear the clutter and establish the efficacy of your equipment.

When choosing what to use precious shelf space for, the first rule of thumb is to pick quality over quantity. After all, not many of us have room for 254 individual county "user manuals." My solution to that problem is to keep an alphabetized three inch, three-ring binder with pertinent information for each county such as the county clerk's name and contact information, county library's location and hours, notes on a county's peculiarities...you get the picture. Voila! I've created my very own Texas county reference book. A quick, occassional update, with the help of Google and adding newly available records, is all the maintenance this do-it-yourself beauty needs. Of course, you could also keep a computerized version of this book, but I'm old fashioned and prefer a tangible product.

Another item to consider keeping in your family history library is a comprehensive history book detailing the particulars of your area of interest, study or research. Not often considered a research guide, a state or local history book can offer a wealth of information and you may even find your ancestor in it! After acquiring said book, read it cover to cover. Make notes in it's margins, you own it. Success in any area of research is predicated on knowledge of the landscape. In other words, learning as much as you can about the cultural, political, social, industrial and geographical history of an area is a force multiplier of sorts, helping to change the tide of a brick wall battle. Choose your history book or two carefully; just the facts, ma'am!

Last, but not least, a resource that gives an extensive accounting of all the records available in your area of interest is needed. Be it a city, county, state or country, it is an invaluable asset. No sense in running around from this repository to that one and back again, wasting time, money and effort. A guide like this will help you more efficiently plan research trips, interlibrary loans and document orders. My personal pick for a Texas research guide is the National Genealogical Society's Research in the States Series.3 Kelvin L. Myers pens the Texas tome and it includes descriptions of ethnic records and land records specific to Texas. He succinctly lays out a map to find extant Republic of Texas records and even explains the distinctive headright and preemption land grant system devised by the country. Concisely written, this guide is only 44 pages, yet touches on diverse topics from German settlers of the Hill Country to the Caddo Indians of East Texas. It is well organized with citations for his information, phone numbers for practically everywhere and the holdings of repositories throughout the state. Published in 2016, it offers the most up-to-date genealogical record offerings in Texas. This book also includes recomendations for other resources and their limits, allowing a person to choose one based on its merits. All in all, a must-have for anybody performing or planning genealogical research in Texas.

Happy hunting!

1 Wikipedia. "List of counties in Texas," Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_counties_in_Texas: last modified 30 June 2016, at 16:08: last accessed 9 July 2016), para. 1.
2 Jesse Greenspan, "9 Things You May Not Know About Texas," History.com (http://www.history.com/news/9-things-you-may-not-know-about-texas: last accessed 9 July 2016), para. 9.
3 Kelvin L. Myers, [I]NGS research in the States Series: Texas[I], NGS SPN 119, (NGS, Arlington, VA: Myers, 2016).

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