Thursday, September 20, 2018

Thoughts on Using Compiled Genealogy Books

A shelf in my personal library, with some
compiled genealogy books

I’m writing this blog post because of all the email, comments and Facebook messages I have received in the last two weeks due to my three-part series “Batchelder Do-Over” ” (By the way, stay tuned for my upcoming “Surname Saturday” post on my "new" BATCHELDER lineage).   Then I received even more email due to my blog post last week on “My Ancestors in Genealogy Books: A Compiled Genealogy Bibliography".  There seems to be a lot of misconceptions about these genealogy books.  I want to share my pros and cons on using them.

First comment – “They are often unsourced.”  Well… actually most compiled genealogy books from the end of the twentieth century until today are sourced, Yay!  The famous genealogist Donald Lines Jacobus lead the way in teaching and demonstrating how to accurately source genealogy books.  His first books in the 1930s have little documentation ( for example The Bulkeley Genealogy, 1933), but his books in the 1970s were much better.  My favorite sourced genealogy books include the wonderful Silver Book series from the General Society of Mayflower Descendants.  Another good set of books is Robert Charles Anderson’s Great Migration Series. All of them, from his three part Great Migration Begins, to his seven volume Great Migration: Immigrants to New England 1634 – 1635, to his directories and other books. These are the standard most authors try to copy today. 

Second comment - Yes, “They are often unsourced”.  But wait!  How can we find a work around?  As for those unsourced books, did you know that many, many authors of these nineteenth century and early twentieth century genealogy books have donated their notes to libraries and archives?  I have often perused these manuscripts at the New England Historic Genealogical Society library in Boston.  Just look at what I found about the BATCHELDER family recently (see the links below) in manuscripts revising an old 1898 book at the New Hampshire Historical Society library and at the Lane Public Library in Hampton, New Hampshire.  Check libraries, historical societies and genealogical societies for donated materials on published (and sometimes unpublished) books. 

Third comment – “But they haven’t done my family in a book!”  How do you know?  Did you check all libraries? Did you check Munsell’s Index, also known as Index to American Genealogies for everything published before 1908?  Did you know that The Greenlaw Index of the New England Historic Genealogical Society is two volumes of all the books in their library printed 1900 – 1940?  (Or you can check their card catalog online free, even if you aren’t a member)   Did you try to see what all the other libraries have?  The Library of Congress ? Or the Genealogical Index of the Newbury Library ?  Another good index is American Genealogical Biographical Index, Volumes 1 – 186, which is online at (this is continuously updated)    Lastly, do you check in genealogy journals to see what new publications are being printed?  Do you read in genealogy magazines to see what new compiled genealogies are being planned, and who is looking for information?  Have you looked to see what is out of print?  Leave no stone unturned.

Fourth comment -  “No one has written about my JONES family”  or “That book is not my JONESes”  There was a famous author named Ken Stevens who used to write up books on families named WILSON in the New England area. He has many WILSON books on the shelves of the NEHGS library.  Of course, he didn’t have my WILSON family of Danvers, Massachusetts written up in a book.   So, I wrote to Mr. Stevens and lo and behold he had lots of notes on my WILSONs (he hadn’t gotten around to publishing that book yet).   And he shared his notes and agreed that my lineage back to the immigrant Robert Wilson (1630 – 1675) was correct.  Just as good as a book!  Ken Stevens died before publishing my WILSONs, but I’ll always cherish his opinions.  ASK! 

Fifth comment -  “I can’t find my ancestors in a book, and I’ve looked everywhere.”  Ok, then your next step is to check journal articles through scholarly indexes such as JSTOR     I also like to check the journals online at the websites of genealogical societies such as the New England Historic Genealogical Society (members only).  You can find back issues of some journals on the HathiTrust Digital Library    Since I focus on New England, I like to find the latest research in Martin Hollick’s book New Englanders in the 1600s (however, it was last updated in 2012.  Is anyone planning another update soon?)   Are there similar books for other US regions?

Sixth comment – “I don’t live in New England. The South doesn’t have many compiled genealogy books”   True, but this is changing.  And although New England seems to have more, this is due to the age of our original colonies and the high density population.  Population percentage wise, it probably only beats out other US regions by a small number. Check around to see what you can find. 

Seventh comment – “Only the old compiled genealogies are online.”  This may seem to be true because Google books  and only digitize the older books due to copyright.  But have you seen the LDS initiative to put their library of books online at  Check the Family Search catalog at or even better, search their book collection (which includes books at other libraries around the US) at this link:  

Eighth comment - “I’ll take what’s in the book as proof.  I’m not a professional, and the author is a professional”.   Hold on!  Did you read reviews on this book?  How do you know the author was a professional, and not just someone with a hobby like you? Remember Gustave Anjou and his completely mythical genealogies?  Do your own evaluation of the book and ask other trusted friends for their opinions on your own conclusions.  You might be a better genealogist than you give yourself credit for! 

Caveat – even sourced genealogy books can have errors.  Use your own judgement and check all books for clues!  Finding your family in a book is only the start of your research.

Batchelder Family Do Over, Part 1  (with links to parts 2 and 3):

My Ancestors in Genealogy Books: A Compiled Genealogy Bibliography:


Heather Wilkinson Rojo, “Thoughts on Using Compiled Genealogy Books”, Nutfield Genealogy, posted September 20, 2018, ( accessed [access date]).

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