Useful Books

Just wondered what Family History reference books everyone keeps to hand.

On the bookshelf in what laughingly passes as my office, I have – and regularly refer to  – the following:


Ancestral Trails: Mark Herber: if you don’t have a copy of this, then beg, borrow or steal one: it’s the genealogist’s Bible.  If you only ever buy one book relating to family history, this should be the one.

Local Census Listings 1522-1930: Holdings In The British Isles:  Jeremy Gibson and Mervyn Medlycott contains over 700 parish listings for census returns for the period 1801 – 1831, some of which include names, together with the repository in which they may be found. Note that this book is a finding aid and does not include individual names.

First Steps In Family History: Eve McLaughlin: another oft-referred-to book: essential reading if you’re just starting out.

Further Steps In Family History: Eve McLaughlin: for when you need to travel beyond BMDs and census returns

The Family Tree Detective: Colin Rogers: the first ‘how to do it book’ I ever bought. Excellent for problem solving.

Intoduction to English Legal History: J H L Baker: because sooner or later we all need to know about this.

An Historical Introduction to the Land Law:  W S Holdsworth:  essential reading for anyone using pre-1925 title deeds.

Latin For Local Historians: Eileen A Gooder: we all need Latin sooner or later. Personally I think it should still be taught in schools…

The Viking Atlas Of World War One: Anthony Livesey: excellent for maps and general overview. Sadly out-of-print at present (but available through library loan schemes)


A History of Staffordshire: Greenslade and Stuart: good for putting your researches in context.

The King’s England: Staffordshire: Arthur Mee: rather dated gazeteer/guide book, heavy on churches and famous men.  You can pick these up from second-hand dealers from about £2.50+: I have one for each county I research in. Good for background and interesting anyway.

A Guide To Staffordshire And The Black Country: Michael Raven: a sort of up-dated Arthur Mee: an excellent gazeteer which mentions small villages and hamlets absent from Mee, but which would be much improved by the inclusion of at least one map.

Family History For Beginners and Advanced Guide To Family History, both published by Staffordshire and Stoke On Trent Archive Service: concentrate on resources which relate specifically to Staffordshire.

Tracing Your Black Country Ancestors: Michael Pearson:  exactly the book I’ve been waiting for someone to write!  The Black Country can be a difficult area to research, not least because it lies in several counties – this excellent book is full of useful information about the area and the records that are available.


Various Gibson Guides, local archive catalogues, volumes of collections of old photographs.


Alan Godfrey Maps: reprints of old OS maps at affordable prices.


Novels can be useful for putting things in context and just ‘getting the feel’. I particularly recommend Charles Dickens for Victorian life and manners; Arnold Bennett – in particular ‘Clayhanger’ – for the Potteries; Mary Webb for life in rural Shropshire; Bernard Cornwell – the ‘Sharpe’ series for a soldier’s life during the Napoleonic Wars.

Any other recommendations?

2 Responses to Useful Books

  1. Aldrovanda says:

    i agree with your thought. thank you for your sharing.

  2. Alina says:

    this is nice post!

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