Genealogy Book Club Gems: Add These to Your Must-Read List

These three must-read titles from our Genealogy Book Club would be great stocking stuffers for yourself or someone you love. See my newest book recommendations for family history lovers by best-selling authors Christina Baker Kline (Orphan Train) and A.J. Jacobs (The Year of Living Biblically)–and another author I recently discovered and couldn’t stop reading.

genealogy gems book club must reads

3 Must-Read Books for Family History Lovers

1. A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline

“You can never escape the bonds of family history, no matter how far you travel. And the skeleton of a house can carry in its bones the marrow of all that came before.” So says the Prologue to a new novel by best-selling novelist Christina Baker Kline, whose novel Orphan Train has been loved by millions around the world (and a lot of Genealogy Gems Book Club fans–we featured it in 2014).

A Piece of the World is a unique and irresistible story about a woman whose physical disabilities and family’s demands keep her adventure-loving spirit firmly homebound. Granted, her home is a fascinating place: a 1700s-era home on the coast of Maine that has been passed down for several generations. But the noble legacy of the home instills a sense of obligation in those who live there now: do they stay on the family land at all costs, even the cost of their happiness and health? What happens when a family’s heritage becomes a burden, not a blessing?

Those who love American art will love that the main character, Christina, was inspired by the subject of the Andrew Wyeth painting, Christina’s World. (You can see an image of the painting here.) Christina was a real person who lived in this home. Andrew visited her and her brother and painted them many times. So the characters and setting are real, and the house is actually a National Historic Landmark now. Christina Baker Kline’s “fictional memoir” gives this historical Christina a powerful, honest, and insightful voice: the voice of a person who sees and tells it like it is–except the parts she just can’t see for herself.

2. It’s All Relative: Adventures Up and Down the World’s Family Tree by A.J. Jacobs

You could say A.J. Jacobs is famous for asking questions that seem both important and inane, and then pursuing the answers and writing about it. That’s what he did with his best-selling book The Year of Living Biblically, a chronicle of the time he tried to obey every rule in the Bible. Now he’s done it again in his new book, It’s All Relative: Adventures Up and Down the World’s Family Tree.

The questions A.J. set out to answer here were, “Who is really my family? And what would happen if I tried to host the world’s biggest family reunion?” He’s been working on this topic for a while. Remember the Global Family Reunion in 2015? That was his brainchild. He also spoke at RootsTech in 2016.

A.J.’s voice is witty with lots of digressions, pop culture references, and a definite urban beat (NYC, specifically). He meditates on what genealogical connections mean to him and the larger story the world’s family tree tells us. Like, we’re all related, and therefore shouldn’t we get along better? But with the quick disclaimer that he’s not inviting us all over for New Year’s brunch. He did that already at the Global Family Reunion–which he reports on in detail. (Did it succeed? Did it fail? I’ve been wondering myself since 2015). In the appendix, he recommends all kinds of genealogy how-to resources, including Genealogy Gems.

If you yourself are somewhat relaxed and perhaps even a little irreverent about your genealogy hobby, you’ll likely really enjoy this book. What about the more earnest family historians? It’s still worth a glimpse into how others see us. A.J. comes peeking into the world of genealogy ready to crack jokes. And he does plenty of that. But he also comes away with a great deal of respect for the stories and relationships that can–and should, he says–bring us closer together.

3. Shannon by Frank Delaney

This isn’t a new book this year–it’s a classic I only recently discovered and can’t recommend more enthusiastically! I listened to the audiobook version, which the author narrates himself with great skill. Now I’m going to buy the print version so I can re-read, underline, and dog-ear all the passages that made me swoon. Oh. My. Goodness. Frank Delaney is a MASTER storyteller. He crafts every sentence, every image. You can practically see the story lines unfold, hear every action, smell it. I gasped, I cried, I laughed–all out loud in the car as I listened.

Shannon is a stunning tale: Father Shannon, an American Catholic priest of Irish descent, has serious “shell-shock” trauma after serving in the trenches of World War I. His archbishop sends him on a respite trip to Ireland to travel up the Shannon River looking for his family roots. He lands in the middle of an Irish Civil War—but also encounters person after person who helps him rediscover his faith in humanity and the restorative balm of daily life. Meanwhile, intrigue is afoot within his home archdiocese. A killer, who has his own traumatic backstory in Ireland, is dispatched to make sure Father Shannon never returns home. Their stories converge in a place of love, but also far too close to a place of pain. And that’s all I’m going to tell you about it. Read it or listen–and then clear a spot on your reading list for his epic novel, Ireland, which I read immediately after this one and also loved.

Genealogy Book Club: It’s All about YOU

genealogy book club family history readingThe Genealogy Gems Book Club is a service we provide the genealogy community because we love giving you more to talk and think about! We handpick our favorite mainstream fiction and nonfiction books that have great genealogy themes, such as someone searching out their family history, the complexities of family relationships, and the fascinating times and places our ancestors experienced.

As a special bonus, we sometimes invite authors of our Book Club titles to join us on the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast, available by subscription. It’s so fun to hear my favorite authors gush about the same kinds of topics I love! Hear from beloved and best-selling writers like Fannie Flagg, Annie Barrows, Helen Simonson, Lalita Tademy, and a favorite of genealogists around the world, Nathan Dylan Goodwin. Click here to see our full book list and where you can hear these interviews.

Best Genealogy Software: Which Should You Choose and Why

Just about every major genealogy website these days lets you build your family tree from scratch right on their website. But you may wonder what will happen to millions of carefully-constructed trees if the company goes out of business or the site goes down.

Before the days of internet genealogy, researchers organized family history findings on their home computers in specially-designed software. These programs generated .GED files (called GEDCOMs), a universal file type that allowed researchers using different software to share their findings. Software like this still exists. These days it can communicate your research to any genealogy sites you care to share with–by using those same GEDCOM files.

If you do choose to build your family tree online, make sure you can download your tree anytime as a GED file. Keep this file as a backup both on your computer and in a second location (like cloud storage). But my recommendation is to build your tree at home, in your own software. Then you can upload or synch your data to your favorite genealogy websites whenever you want–and you never lose control of your research.

Choosing the Right Software

There are lots of family history programs out there, and all of them will serve your basic needs. But you only need ONE. What’s the best genealogy software? It depends on how much you want to spend and how sophisticated you want your database to be. In many cases, you can order the product or purchase a digital download. I really don’t think you need the physical boxed product. All the help you need is online. All of these products offer a free demo that you can download to try it out before you buy.

FREE AND EASY: Family Tree Builder by MyHeritage helps you stay organized with streamlined screens to work in and doesn’t require a lot of startup time. Family Tree Builder offers lots of family history charts; custom reports; helps you share your data and pictures on a CD or DVD; allows you to back up your files to CD or DVD; and includes genealogy apps for mobile devices. Download the software FREE at the above link.

PC (and NOW MAC) OPTION WITH GREAT REPORTS: If you’re looking for great printed reports that you can share, and loads of free online help videos, then RootsMagic is a great choice. (and we are honored to have RootsMagic as a sponsor of The Genealogy Gems Podcast.) And they now have an iOS app.

Some of the differences you’ll find between these products is the types of reports and charts they produce. So if that’s important to you, you can try the demos and see which you like. But again, I really don’t think you can go wrong with any of these products. They are all well established and supported. (Update: There have been many updates since the post was first published, including a Mac version. Click here for a series of article by date on RootsMagic updates and their app.)

POPULAR PC AND APP PROGRAM: Legacy Family Tree is also an extremely popular program and solid choice. To give it a test run, download the free version. Then check out its strength in regards to source citations: you can now record the quality (original vs derivative, primary vs secondary, etc., direct vs indirect) of each source as you work on proving your conclusions. And they have an app called Families for your mobile device. Learn more about the app here.

AFFORDABLE MAC OPTION: iFamily for Leopard is the most affordable at $29.95.  There’s a free demo you can try before you buy.

TOP-SHELF MAC OPTION: Reunion 11 by Leister Pro is fairly pricey at $99.00. We’ve featured Reunion in the past: listen to Episode 51 of The Genealogy Gems Podcast. In that episode you can listen to a review of Reunion 9 by Ben Sayer, the MacGenealogist. And if you want to compare iFamily against Reunion to see what you’re getting for your money, you can also listen to Ben’s review of iFamily in Genealogy Gems episode 53.

Family History Episode 28 – Find Your Family History in Newspapers, Part 2

Listen to the Family History: Genealogy Made Easy podcast by Lisa Louise Cooke. It’s a great series for learning the research ropes and well as refreshing your skills.

Family History: Genealogy Made Easy Podcast
with Lisa Louise Cooke
Republished April 22, 2014

Download the Show Notes for this Episode

Welcome to this step-by-step series for beginning genealogists—and more experienced ones who want to brush up or learn something new. I first ran this series in 2008-09. So many people have asked about it, I’m bringing it back in weekly segments.

Episode 28: Find Your Family History in Newspapers, Part 2

Newspapers offer such a unique perspective on history in general, and our ancestors specifically.  In Part 1 of this 2-part series, we talked about finding historical newspapers. In this episode, Jane Knowles Lindsey at the California Genealogical Society shares inspiring stories about the kinds of family items she’s found in newspapers. She offers a  dozen more fantastic tips on researching old newspapers.

Jane mentions these family history finds from old newspapers:

  • photographs (engagements, weddings, obituaries, etc)
  • family visits from out of town
  • clues on immigrant arrivals
  • who’s staying at local hotels
  • news on relatives who were missionaries overseas
  • crimes involving relatives as victims, perpetrators, investigators, etc.
  • profiles of jurors
  • family reunions
  • probate items and transcriptions from court cases, like divorces

Here are 12 more tips for researching newspapers and organizing your discoveries:

  1. If you print out newspaper content found online, make sure you note where you found it. Source citation information may not be included in what you print.
  2. Look for probate and “bigger” news items in newspapers that have wider coverage than the town: a neighboring larger city or a county-wide paper. Also look at the map to see whether the nearest big paper is out-of-county or even out of state.
  3. Social calendar items (family visits, etc) were most popular up to the 1960s and 1970s. Newspapers today don’t look at local and personal news items.
  4. Sometimes death notices for more prominent people are accompanied by a much larger article about them that runs within a week before or after the obituary.
  5. There may have been both a morning and afternoon newspaper in some areas. Learn what papers were in town.
  6. Transcribe short newspaper articles into your family history software. Transcription helps you catch details you may otherwise miss, if you’re not reading very carefully.
  7. Nowadays with OCR and scanning, you can actually keep a digital copy of the article itself.
  8. Look for ethnic newspapers in the advanced search at the U.S. Newspaper Directory at Chronicling America.
  9. Any mention in a newspaper can point you to other records: court files, immigration and naturalization papers, military documents, cemetery records and more.
  10. Google! See the link below for the updated Google News resource (for historical newspapers).
  11. Newspapers can act as a substitute or supplement for records that have been lost in courthouse fires and floods or other records.
  12. Like today, not everything we read in the newspaper is true!

Updates and Links

  • Some of the digital newspaper collections mentioned in the episode are available by library subscription, like The Early American Newspapers collection the and 19th century Newspaper Collection from The Gale Group. Check with your local library.
  • My You Tube channel now has several videos on newspaper research and on using Google’s powerful tools for your family history research. However, Google discontinued the Google News Timeline mentioned in this episode.
  • Check out the benefits of Genealogy Gems Premium Membership–including all those great video classes mentioned in the episode–here.

A few great newspaper research sites:

Chronicling America

Genealogy Bank

Newspapers.com

MyHeritageHow to Find Your Family History in Newspapers

Finally, don’t forget this Genealogy Gems resource: How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers walks you through the process of finding and researching old newspapers. You’ll find step-by-step instructions, worksheets and checklists, tons of free online resources, websites worth paying for, location-based newspaper websites and a case study that shows you how it’s done.

Trove: Australia Digitized Newspapers and More

This free video (below) introduces Trove, The National Library of Australia’s online catalog and digital archive for all things Australian. Trove digital archives genealogy

If you have roots in Australia, I hope you are using Trove. When I first covered it in the Genealogy Gems podcast a while back, it was a fairly new resource and I shared how it is chock full of 76 million digitized newspaper articles. Now that number exceeds 200 million records! The site has expanded its other content, too. If you haven’t looked for your Aussie roots on Trove recently, you’re really missing out!

Trove helps you find and use resources relating to Australia. It’s more than a search engine. Trove brings together content from libraries, museums, archives and other research organisations and gives you tools to explore and build.

Trove is many things: a community, a set of services, an aggregation of metadata, and a growing repository of fulltext digital resources.

Best of all, Trove is yours, created and maintained by the National Library of Australia.

Australian genealogy congress bannerThat’s how the site introduces itself, and it sure lives up to its claim. As shown in the video below, Trove lets you search among “zones” of online content:

  • digitized newspapers; journals, articles and data sets;
  • online and offline books, audiobooks, theses and pamphlets;
  • pictures, photos and objects;
  • music, sound and video files;
  • maps, atlases, charts and globes;
  • diaries, letters and personal papers;
  • archived websites;
  • people and organizations; and
  • a zone for user-created lists.

You can browse these zones individually or search them all with a single click. You can search for just items available online, in Australian-only content, or just in libraries you specify. Creating a free user ID allows you to personalize your experience and participate in online forums. From my U.S. perspective, it would be like having the Library of Congress main website and all its offshoots such as Chronicling America rolled up together with WorldCatArchiveGrid, Internet Archive and its Wayback Machine–but focused entirely on my country.

When it comes to those nearly-200 million newspaper articles, you can search these by keyword or browse by newspaper title, state, date, category (article, ad or list) or tag. Refine search results by place, title, Newspaper Book Covercategory, whether illustrated, decade and even the length of the article. You can even sign up to receive alerts to newly-posted material that matches your search criteria.

Remember, newspaper research in genealogy isn’t just about obituaries or wedding anniversary announcements. It’s about understanding the daily lives of our ancestors, and I share more strategies on uncovering these gems in my book How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers (available as an e-book or in print).

Here’s a video from the National Library of Australia with an overview of Trove:

Click here to search newspapers on Trove now.

MORE Australia Genealogy Gems

New Australia Genealogy Records Online

AncestryDNA in Australia and New Zealand

Assisted Immigration: Queensland Passenger Lists

 

 

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