Over the years, I’ve read a lot of books about researching and/or writing family history. Some of my favourites have been published here in Australia including these three:
Family History for Beginners & Beyond, 16th Edition, edited by Danny O’Neill
Whether you’re just starting out on researching your family history, or you’ve been on the trail for some time, but would appreciate a handy resource of the key repositories for family history research, then Family History for Beginners & Beyond is a great book to have in easy reach. Although online sources can become outdated quickly, this latest edition was published in 2020, so most links and websites should be relatively current.
The book covers topics such as ‘where do I begin’ and ‘being organised’ before dividing chapters into areas such as ‘libraries and archives’, ‘births, death and marriages’, ‘convict ancestors’, Indigenous ancestors’ and ‘military records’. As well as Australian resources, it also contains chapters on England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, with smaller sections on various countries in Continental Europe.
Although not exhaustive, and with an Australian and Euroentric focus, this is a handy resource for anyone searching for ancestors both in Australia and overseas.
Writing a Non-boring Family History by Hazel Edwards
Although Writing a Non-boring Family History is now ten years’ old, I still find it one of the most accessible and down-to-earth books about writing a family history.
Hazel Edwards begins by leading readers through a series of preparatory questions such as ‘Why are you writing this history?’ and ‘Who are your readers?’ before offering tips about various elements of the writing process, such as:
- bringing the characters in your family tree to life
- dramatising and shaping your story
- including description
- verifying information
- dealing with controversial parts of your ancestor’s lives.
Hazel Edwards also provides information about the publishing process and advice about whether to self-publish or not.
How to Write History That People Want to Read by Anne Curthoys and Ann McGrath
Anne Curthoys and Ann McGrath’s book How to Write History That People Want to Read is aimed at historians generally rather than family historians specifically, but this book is nevertheless filled with useful and practical advice about how to collate your research into a form that is engaging for others to read.
Some of the questions Curthoys and McGrath set out to answer include:
- how much research is necessary?
- how do you avoid writer’s block?
- when should you start writing?
- how do you make the most of visual, oral and material sources?
- how do you write a compelling narrative?
- what’s the best way to begin and end your narrative?
Anne Curthoys and Ann McGrath are experienced historians and teachers, and How to Write History that People Want to Read is both thorough and accessible.
Over to You
What books (or other resources) have you found most useful to help you research or write your family history and would recommend to others?