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Genealogy: Developing Your Home Support System

Find how to expand your genealogical research and library at home.

Genealogy: Developing Your Home Support System

Add to the references and resources you keep handy at home. Tapes, books, catalogs, computer programs, Internet subscriptions, and CD-ROMs can all advance your research from the comfort of home.

Most national conference lectures, and some regional ones, are taped on cassette and then converted to CD-ROMs, which you can purchase. Although you miss the visual parts of the lectures, the CDs are nonetheless useful aids for your education. Peruse the online catalog at Heritage Books ( and order CDs relevant to your particular interest.

Adding to Your Library

Build your collection little by little. Start with some basic guidebooks, and as you progress in your research, add to your collection. You may find that there is one book you regularly consult at the library; consider investing in a copy for your own bookshelves. When you find a geographic area where you are doing a great deal of research, you will probably want to purchase books about that area—not just genealogical books, but also histories.

If you find that you have an interest in a special ethnic group, look for books in that field. There are numerous books on many aspects of Jewish genealogy, as well as on Italian, German, Russian, Scottish, and so on. One way to learn about these is by attending lectures, or studying the bibliographies in conference syllabi or those in journal articles. If your library has the selected book or can get it for you through interlibrary loan, review it there; consider purchasing the book if you think you will use it often.

Tree Tips

Don't concentrate on genealogical offerings only. Social histories that deal with particular geographical areas or periods of time can be quite useful, especially when you start writing narratives about your ancestors. You may learn stories about your ancestors while reading the history of an area.


There are several large booksellers that specialize in genealogical materials. Their owners and managers are genealogists who understand the needs of the field. Some specialize in books that are not generally thought of as genealogy books, but are aids to your understanding the laws, customs, and conditions that influenced your ancestors' behavior.

Don't overlook the major societies and archives. Many of them publish historical books and finding aids for their collections. North Carolina Archives, National Archives, New England Historic Genealogical Society, National Genealogical Society, and Illinois State Genealogical Society are only a few with publications.

Booksellers, and many societies and archives, advertise in genealogical publications. Look for them and send for their catalogs or reach them through their Internet addresses. Check for links to genealogy bookstores. Online bookstores, search services such as AbeBooks (www.abebooks. com), or eBay can be good sources for rare or special-interest books.

Feeding Your Computer More Software

Numerous programs have been developed by genealogists for genealogists to help in record keeping and research. Among the most widely used genealogy database programs are Family Tree Maker, Personal Ancestral File (PAF), Reunion, The Master Genealogist, and RootsMagic. Complementary programs that enhance the database programs are always in development. Look for them on the websites of the programs as well as in the periodical Genealogical Computing.

Mapping programs are useful for converting a legal description of land to a graphic representation. DeedMapper enables you to plat the land.

Using Your Computer to the Utmost

When inspiration strikes in the middle of the night, your subscriptions to online sites permit you to confirm, refute, or enhance your ideas on the spot. Definitely allot some of your genealogy funds to subscriptions including census records. When deciding on a subscription service for access to census records, also weigh the value to you of the services of other collections such as historical newspapers, British records, French-Canadian records, and others of that ilk.

Before Internet research became commonplace, much information was published on CD-ROMs. They take advantage of one of the things that computers do best—quickly searching through mountains of information. As with any publication, however, be wary. Many CD-ROM compilations are incomplete or have errors, just as many printed indexes do, and many of them are out-of-date. Still useful, though, are CD-ROMs with the fully digitized, every-word searchable, scholarly journals from their inception up to the present as well as long-out-of-print books.

Budgeting for Genealogical Luxuries

All these resources can move into the luxury category as genealogy takes hold of your life. You find you want to attend all the conferences and institutes and load up on memberships, subscriptions, books, tapes, and computer programs. You'll covet the latest multivolume indexes available on CD-ROM. You'll buy into the reasoning that a copier and even a microfilm reader will save you time and money.

If you don't have a computer, you'll want one. If you have a computer, you'll want multimedia, a scanner, a digital camera, a PDA, and more … and more. If you have a laptop, you'll hear the siren song of travel accessories: tiny mice, travel keyboards, miniaturized surge protectors, security cables—the list lengthens.

Surely you'll be tempted to take a genealogy cruise. Imagine enjoying a vacation in the Caribbean or Alaska or Mexico with all that implies, as well as attending onboard lectures presented by prominent genealogists. Exchanging ideas with other attendees in a social setting can supercharge your research, but the price can be somewhat steep.

Before you go on a spending spree, study your budget. Be an informed consumer, first buying the essentials that will help you become a skilled researcher. Ask yourself, “Will this purchase add to my genealogical skills and knowledge?” “Will it help me trace my ancestors?” Later, you can contemplate the purchase of the “big ticket” items.

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