Thursday, September 10, 2015

Ten Fun Genealogy Books (that are not reference books)

Today is September 10th, and I thought I'd post another top 10 list...

Ten Fun Genealogy Books (that are not reference books).  What are your top FUN genealogy books? Please comment below. 

1.  Psychic Roots, by Henry Z. Jones, Jr. 1993.  We’ve all had those spooky moments in genealogy – Have you ever turned down a dirt road on the spur of the moment and by surprise found the family cemetery? Had a book fall off a shelf at a library, and found out it was THE book with great grandpa’s story? Found a misfiled document that solved a brick wall? Then this book is for you!  Jones also wrote More Psychic Roots for those of you who enjoyed this book.

2.  The Seven Daughters of Eve, by Bryan Sykes, 2001.  I read this book within months of its publication because I saw Bryan Sykes on a TV documentary and became hooked on his DNA theories. This book is an excellent read for lay people interested in genetic (DNA) genealogy, especially for those with European ancestry.  Sykes has written other books since then, but this is the book that got me excited about the concept of DNA genealogy.

3.  Slaves in the Family, by Edward Ball, 1998.  This book reads like a detective novel.  I was on the edge of my seat until the last chapter.  It was written before a lot of other books, articles, TV shows, etc. that describe the search for white ancestors of “black” descendants.  Fun, fun, fun for genealogists!

4.  The Wordy Shipmates, by Sarah Vowell, 2009.  This book accurately describes the Puritans as they really were- highly literate and surprisingly feisty.  Sarah Vowell finds the fun in the Winthrop Fleet passengers’ lives, describing their courtroom lawsuits and feuds.  There are no uptight Yankees in this book, just a lot of fun. Not really genealogy unless you have some Puritan Great Migration ancestors, and then you'll find all your family between the pages of this book!

5.  Sex in Middlesex: Popular Mores in a Massachusetts County, 1649 – 1699, by Roger Thompson, reprint 2012.  Roger Thompson has written some wonderful books examining the court records of Cambridge, Watertown and Charlestown, Massachusetts.  This book takes into account the entire county of Middlesex, Massachusetts. Thompson has sifted out the most interesting court cases that shatter the traditional belief that the Puritans weren’t interesting people.  If you had ancestors from colonial Middlesex you just might find one or two inside this book.

6.  The Encyclopedia of New England, edited by Burt Feintuch and David H. Watters, 2005.  A huge book of nearly 1600 pages (7.6 pounds!) and nicely illustrated with photos, drawings and maps.  Sections include “Cities and Suburbs”, “Folklife”, “Music and Performing Arts”, “Maritime New England” and more with stories on blizzards, hurricanes, history, biographies, events, ideas, artifacts, industry and more.  I use it all the time for my family history and blogging. Visitors to our home love to peruse it for oddities and trivia.  If you have New England ancestry, it is invaluable.

7. Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America, by David Hackett Fischer, 1989.  Not everyone has British/English roots, but if you do, you’ll find this book answers many of your questions about the four largest migrations of British people to what is now the United States.  This book can be read from cover to cover or used as a reference.  I read the chapters on Scots Irish, Quaker, and Puritan migration over and over, and refer to them often in my research.  There is also a section on the tidewater states and their settlement by royalist cavaliers.

8. Last Laughs:  Funny Tombstone Quotes and Famous Last Words, by Kathleen E. Miller, 2006.  I had to include one gravestone book on this list, and this is the book I reach for when I need a good laugh.  It is full of humorous epitaphs, and it even tells you where they are located.  I’ve found a few of these gravestones on my travels, and you might, too, since it includes epitaphs from coast to coast and from other countries.

Some children’s books to share with everyone in the family:

9.  Becky, Grandmother of New Hampshire: An Historical Novel, by Alice I. Clark Haubrich, 1966 (out of print, but available used and in libraries)   This is a children’s book only 104 pages long, but it includes New Hampshire history and lots of genealogical charts.  Are similar books available for other states? I loved this book as a child, and even more now.

10.  An American Girls Family Album:  A Book for Writing the Memories of My Grandmothers, My Mother, and Me, by Jennifer Hirsh, 1998.  What a fun book to get three generations to work together on a project.  Is there a similar book out there for boys? My daughter completed this book on her own, asking me questions about my childhood, and including a visit to Massachusetts with my Mother to discuss her girlhood during the Great Depression and World War II, and a visit to Spain to visit her paternal grandmother to find out about her childhood during the Spanish Civil War and life under dictator Generalissimo Francisco Franco.  I have this book on my shelf as a keepsake.  Maybe someday my daughter will want it for her own bookshelf. 


 Published under a Creative Commons License
Heather Wilkinson Rojo, "Ten Fun Genealogy Books (that are not reference books)", Nutfield Genealogy, posted September 10, 2015, ( : accessed [access date]).


  1. Alright, Heather. I have now ordered four books because of your list. But, I'm a reader and it's okay!

  2. I love Hank Jones' books! It makes me think there is always hope for finding that elusive ancestor or record. I'm even mentioned in the second book.Story: I was working on my hubby's Whitmer family and found a Goodspeed biography saying Valentine Whitmer was born in Rockingham Co., VA in 1794. This was along the migration path from MD to KY. I knew there were German church records in that county because my friend Nancy was working on her husband's lines there. I called to ask her about them and to get the name of the church. I told her I was hoping they had a copy of his baptismal record. Nancy went to pull out that file (pre-internet days) and said she had one page of records from Friedens Church, where her husband's family worshiped. She looked at that one page that had his ancestor's baptism and said, "You're not going to believe this, but the last entry on this page is the baptism of Valentine Whitmer." Guess he wanted to be found!

    1. Great story, Linda! I'm flipping through the book for your mention...

  3. I can't wait to get my Psychic Roots! I see there is a second one also - have you read it? The American Girl one you do with granddaughters look interesting. My oldest is only 5 now so I have a few years for them, but I could fill in my part and hold them.

  4. Heather,
    I am a professional Irish genealogist and writer. I particularly like thriller novels and movies, so when one of my client's ancestry research cases started to read like a far-fetched thriller story, I decided to convert the fact-based saga into a fictionalized novel written in the style of a thriller (in partnership with my client). The resultant book, published in 2013, is therefore often listed under two contradictory genres, [1] genealogy reference, and [2] historical fiction. The book sells well, especially in e-book format, often being listed in the Amazon best-sellers for these genres. Some reviewers say it is a "fun read" and others say it is "educational" with regards to genealogy resources.

    My novel is called "Where's Merrill? a genealogical thriller" and written under my pen-name of Gearoid O'Neary. More info is available at the website:

    If you ever compiled a paradoxical Top Ten list of "fun fictional reference books" then Where's Merrill? might make the 'short' shortlist.