The producers of the American version of Who Do You Think You Are? have produced a companion book, written by Megan Smolenyak, a well-known author, lecturer, and frequent TV guest. She also serves as Chief Genealogical Consultant to the television series. The book is subtitled "The Essential Guide to Tracing Your Family History, a Companion to the NBC Series." The book was released today.
I've known Megan Smolenyak for several years and I respect her work. I expected this book to be an excellent how-to-get-started-and-do-it-the right-way tutorial. I wasn't disappointed. As soon as I opened the book and looked at the Table of Contents, I saw that Megan was aiming squarely at the intended audience. The chapters include:
Preparing For Your Ancestor Hunt
Webbing It: What's Online?
Learning to Love a Census
Vitally Important: Births, Marriages, and Deaths
Marching Orders: Did Your Ancestors Serve?
Crossing the Pond: Old Country Roots
The Best of the Rest
Sleuthing in Action
Pass It On
The book also has an Appendix that provides references to many more interview guides, online genealogy services, and source citation help.
Indeed, this is a beginner's guide to genealogy, not a picture book of scenes extracted from the television show. There is a section printed on glossy paper in the center of the book that provides information about each personality featured in the show's episodes and describes the genealogy searches performed by or on behalf of each personality. However, the other 95% of the book barely mentions the television program. This is an excellent "how to get started in genealogy" book that stands on its own, with or without the television program.
Chapter 1, "Preparing For Your Ancestor Hunt," starts with the best advice ever given to beginning genealogists: "Start With What You Know." The author describes her own start in genealogy, then offers advice such as, "While I'm glad to have started in the old-school, paper-and-pencil, snail-mail days, you will definitely be able to find out much more about your family considerably faster than I did. What took me months might take you a couple of hours, but we're not quite at the just-add-water stage."
Megan then goes on to describe:
birth, marriage, and death certificates
newspaper clippings, including obituaries and wedding and anniversary announcements
naturalization and citizenship papers, including passports and visas
religious records (e.g., baptismal, bar mitzvah, etc.)
Letters (and addressed envelopes)
Diaries and journals
heirlooms such as engraved items, samplers, and quilts
all sorts of legal records
Megan also describes pedigree charts, family group sheets, spelling variations of family names, and much, much more. She also dispels family myths, such as Cherokee princesses, "the name was changed at Ellis Island," family coats of arms, and others. She devotes a 30-page chapter to online sources, including:
Ancestry.com; FamilySearch.org; CyndisList; USGenWeb; RootsWeb; Footnote.com; GenealogyBank.com; EllisIsland.org; CastleGarden.com; Google; online sites of libraries, archives, and societies; RootsTelevision.com (recently announced as closing soon); ISOGG.org; SteveMorse.com; FindAGrave.com; DeathIndexes.com; DeadFred.com; Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness; DearMyrtle; the Genealogy Guys podcasts; Ancestry Insider; the Genetic Genealogist; the Genealogue; and a nice mention of Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter. (Thanks Megan!)
Perhaps the toughest thing to describe about this book is the writing style: Megan writes as if this book is for the beginning genealogist. She doesn't use buzzwords and jargon used by the experienced family tree searchers, not even in the section about online resources. There is no assumption that the reader already knows about ahnentafels and Register Reports. Anyone should be able to pick up this book and understand every bit of it.
If you have been researching your family tree for a while, you might consider this book to be a bit elementary. Indeed, it is and that is on purpose. Megan Smolenyak wrote an excellent how-to-get-started-and-do-it-the right-way tutorial and I will suggest that she did it well.
If you need a gift for a family member or a friend that might be interested in researching their own family tree, I'd strongly suggest you give them Who Do You Think You Are? by Megan Smolenyak.
Since it is affiliated with the television series, I suspect this book may soon be available in all the major bookstores. However, it isn't there yet as it was only released today. You could wait for it to become available or you can order it today through most any online bookstore, including Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.com. The specialty bookstores, such as RootsBooks, also should have it now or very soon. (Disclaimer: you should know that I am the owner of RootsBooks.com.)
Who Do You Think You Are? retails for $24.95 but the online discount bookstores are selling it for about $16 to $18. Prices will vary a bit from store to store.
When ordering the new book, Who Do You Think You Are?, specify ISBN 978-0-670-02163-5.