Book Review: The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy, 4th Edition

Disclosure: I was given a complimentary copy of this book by Genealogical Publishing Company for the purpose of writing a review. However, the views expressed are my own and not influenced by GPC in any way.

 I have to say upfront that one of the first genealogy books I ever owned back when I began to research in 1980, was Val Greenwood’s book, The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy, published in 1973. I also purchased the second edition, which came out in 1990, so when I was asked to provide a review for the 4th edition, I was pretty excited.

I jumped right into the book as soon as it arrived, but it’s taken me a few tries to actually write this review in such a way as to cover all the terrific things about it without writing a book myself.

I’m a pretty practical person so if I am going to seriously consider spending $50 on a newer edition of a book I already own, I’d want to know a few things about it first. I’m assuming that you would have similar questions to mine:

Question 1 – Does the 4th edition contain changes significant enough to justify the cost?

Question 2 – If the answer to the first question is yes, is the newly added text providing me with valuable new information that again justifies the cost?

Answer to Question 1 – Some books show few changes and updates from one edition to the next. Not so with The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy. To begin, the 4th edition is composed of 28 chapters, divided into two sections, totaling 738 pages (an increase of almost 160 pages over the 579 pages in the 2nd edition, which is the newest version I own), plus an index:

Part 1 – Background to Research

  1. Understanding Genealogical Research
  2. Language, Terminology and Important Issues
  3. Surveying, Analyzing, and Planning
  4. Evidence
  5. Libraries and the National Archives (NARA)
  6. Reference Works
  7. Organizing and Evaluating Your Research Findings
  8. Successful Correspondence
  9. Computer Technology and Family History
  10. Family History on the Internet
  11. Family History: Going Beyond Genealogy

Part 2 – Records and Their Use

12. Compiled Sources and Newspapers
13. Vital Records
14. Census Returns
15. Using Census Records in Your Research
16. Understanding Probate Records and Legal Terminology
17. What About Wills?
18. The Intestate, Miscellaneous Probate Records, and Guardianships
19. Government Land: Colonial and American
20. Local Land Records
21. Abstracting Probate and Land Records
22. Court Records and Family History
23. Property Rights of Women as a Consideration
24. Church Records and Family History
25. Immigrant Ancestor Origins: American Finding Aids
26. Military Records: Colonial Wars and the American Revolution
27. Military Records: After the Revolution
28. Cemetery and Burial Records

A lengthy list of Illustrations and Charts follows the chapters.

Before even glancing at page 1, I skimmed the chapters and compared the wording between the 2nd and 4th editions. While there are a few paragraphs between the two book versions that are similar, it was obvious that a new depth has been added to each chapter and many topics have been greatly expanded. In short, the book has been completely overhauled and updated.

Thus, I answered my first question as there are very significant changes that have been made to the book.

NOTE: I’m focused on this issue because, in the past, I’ve been suckered into purchasing a new edition of a book only to discover that maybe aside from a flashy new cover, a few typo corrections and a small amount of new textual information, few changes had been made and my purchase was a waste of money.

Answer to Question 2 – Yes, the newly added text provides valuable new information.

Rather than trying to detail all the new bits and pieces in this book, I’d like to share a list of my favorite things about it:

  • I love that Mr. Greenwood begins by saying that the nature of research hasn’t changed through the years, but that the tools available to perform the searches have radically expanded. Each researcher’s focus should remain on quality work.
  • Instead of throwing educational opportunities in a list at the back of the book, he stresses the importance of honing one’s skills upfront in Chapter 1. Sound research is more important than ever with all the misinformation propagating online.
  • There is detailed discussion not only about types of genealogical evidence, but examples that display careful methodology.
  • Use of the internet is presented as an integrated tool rather than the place to go to find “everything.”
  • Various categories of U.S. records are presented in depth with many examples. (Remember, this is a guide to American research, not international research.)
  • A glossary of terms found in common genealogical documents like probate records, census instructions and land records is provided in the corresponding chapters.
  • There is a chapter specifically on women’s property rights, a topic that is often overlooked by researchers because they don’t know enough about it.
  • The chapter on Compiled Sources and Newspapers includes a discussion of the limits and issues of each.
  • Computer Technology and Family History includes info on everything from wikis to online security.
  • Examples of how to do quality genealogical research are provided, such as facts to be included in land or probate abstracts.
  • The importance of understanding historical context in the lives of our ancestors is noted.
  • Guidelines issued by various professional organizations such as the Board for Certification of Genealogists and the National Genealogical Society are clearly stated.
  • Each time I open the book, I discover something new I love.

I could go on and on, but I think I’ve shared enough so that you get the idea. The amount of information and details in this book is overwhelming. I can’t come up with a single topic relating to American genealogical research that isn’t, at the very least, touched upon. The Researcher’s Guide is a fabulous textbook, but the best part is that you don’t have to be in a class to benefit from it. I can’t say enough wonderful things about it. It’s definitely the newest entry on my GeneaGems list. 🙂

 The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy, 4th edition, will become the new classic textbook – of that I am sure. Greenwood has kept the best of past editions and supplemented it with the best of today. Every serious genealogist, whether a rank beginner, an advanced professional or someone in between, should have this book in his/her reference library.

The Researcher’s Guide American Genealogy, 4th Edition is $49.95. To purchase a copy, visit Genealogical Publishing Company. 

 

One thought on “Book Review: The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy, 4th Edition”

  1. Thanks for your thoughtful and informative review of the 4th edition of this genealogy book. I have been working on my “family tree” for many years and have become discouraged by the many roadblocks I have encountered – until now.
    Yesterday, I was with a 95 year old lady who has been doing genealogical research since the early 1970, and volunteers at our local library once a week. She pulled a copy of Val Greenwood’s book, 3rd edition and opened it first to the table of contents and quickly perused the contents. I could see many areas in which I had “troubles” in my own research and she described it as her most valuable reference in her several dozen books on genealogical research. With her endorsement and your review, I have decided that I can not do without the 4th edition. I appreciate your concise and clear assessment of this newest edition.
    Regards, B.T.

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