The first edition of the Complete Idiot's Guide to Genealogy was a very popular addition to the series. I first mentioned it in a 1998 edition of this newsletter. However, the methods of finding one's ancestors have changed a lot in the past few years, and an update to the book was needed. Authors Christine Rose and Kay Germain Ingalls wrote a new version that has major revisions. They have retained most of the information about the old tried and true methods of genealogy but have expanded the coverage of Internet-based genealogy searches, DNA, and other modern search techniques.
Like most of the "Complete Idiots" books, this book assumes the reader is of normal intelligence but is a novice at the subject covered. In this case, the Complete Idiot's Guide to Genealogy assumes that the reader knows the names of his or her parents and probably of the grandparents, but little more.
The first chapter starts out with a discussion of why people research their family trees. The reasons include:
- To determine ethnic origin(s)
- To explain why Dad would never talk about his family
- To find out if you are really descended from Paul Revere
- A passion for history
- To note family traits, such as talent or temperament
- Congenital health problems
- To track down a family tradition
- To determine ancestors in a particular occupation
- To join a hereditary society
- To establish a sense of identity
- … and many more reasons
Chapter Two is entitled, "Start with Mom and Dad." It describes the best and fastest method of finding your ancestry: start with yourself and then work back one generation at a time.
Chapters Three and Four describe the basics of genealogy research: recording what you find and organizing your efforts to reduce wasted time and efforts.
Chapter Five devotes ten pages to genealogy searches on the Internet. That struck me as being a bit slim: only ten pages of online instruction out of a 357-page book. However, Alpha Books also publishes another book: the extensive Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy by Rhonda McClure. I guess it makes sense to not publish two different books with overlapping coverage.
The remaining chapters describe searches of city directories, telephone books, alumni records, census records, military records and much, much more. Topics covered even include the "softer skills," such as understanding naming conventions amongst different religious or ethnic groups.
The coverage of census records covers 18 pages and is excellent. The authors do a great job of explaining the U.S. federal census records. A discussion of military records also is valuable to the genealogy newcomer.
The new edition of this guide also includes an 11-page guide to the study of DNA for genealogical purposes. This section describes Y-chromosome, Mitochondrial DNA and even of Autosomal DNA. The discussion includes information about medical concerns and privacy issues.
The one item that distinguishes the Complete Idiot's Guide to Genealogy from many other "how to get started" books is the detailed instruction about techniques and methodology. Other books often contain simple lists of where to find records. The Complete Idiot's Guide to Genealogy takes a very different approach; it devotes many pages to mapping your strategy, how to conduct correspondence, how to approach a town clerk, how to set up filing systems to organize the information found and how to place your ancestor in the historical context in which he or she lived. This "how to" information is as valuable, or perhaps even more valuable, to the newcomer as any other genealogy instruction.
I would strongly suggest this book for anyone searching for ancestors within the U.S. Coverage of other countries' records is slim. If you are an American and suspect that you have several generations of American ancestry, the Complete Idiot's Guide to Genealogy is an excellent first book. Once your research gets back to an immigrant ancestor or two, you will want to switch to more specialized books on that country's records.
The two authors of this book certainly are genealogy experts:
Christine Rose is a full-time genealogy professional specializing in on-site research. She has almost all the initials listed after her name: CG, CGL and FASG. Those stand for Certified Genealogist, Certified Genealogical Lecturer, and Fellow of the American Society of Genealogists, respectively. That last honor, FASG, is the highest honor granted to American genealogists. You cannot apply for an FASG honor; it is bestowed by peers, based on quantity and quality of publications, and is limited to only 50 people at any time.
Christine Rose also was the recipient of the prestigious Donald Lines Jacobus award. She is former vice-president of the Association of Professional Genealogists, and a member of numerous societies. I have known Christine Rose for years and can tell you that she is not only an expert; she is also a delightful conversationalist. That conversational ability shows in her writing: this is an easy book to read.
Kay Germain Ingalls is a certified genealogist and is past president of the Association of Professional Genealogists and a trustee for the Board for Certification of Genealogists. She is the 1998 recipient of the Grahame T. Smallwood Jr. Award. She has extensive experience in on-site research, particularly county courthouses. She is also a researcher for historical projects and books and is a developer of finding aids in archival collections.
I do not know Kay Ingalls well, but I can tell you that her reputation is well-deserved. In fact, she is a leading genealogy expert of our time and also knows how to explain complex ideas in conversational English.
Both of these ladies are well-respected genealogy experts and authors. Their collaboration has resulted in a first class book that will convert you from "an idiot" to a competent genealogist.
The Complete Idiot's Guide to Genealogy, Second Edition is in stock at most major bookstores, including the online bookstores. If you cannot find it on the shelf, any bookstore can order it if you specify ISBN 0028619471.
The retail price of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Genealogy is $18.95 (U.S.). However, most bookstores are very competitive and often sell it at major discounts. At the time these words are being written, Amazon.com is selling the Second Edition for $12.32 plus shipping and taxes, if any. I would suggest that this is a bargain price for a 357-page "how to" book that is packed full of high-quality information on how to get started in genealogy. If you are new to family tree research, or if you know someone who is just getting started, I would strongly suggest that you buy this book.