Reference Sources

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This article originally appeared in Printed Sources: A Guide to Published Genealogical Records, edited by Kory L. Meyerink.


Librarians define a reference source as anything used to answer a question. Such a broad definition means that there is a variety of sources available in a reference department. Encyclopedias, almanacs, yearbooks, directories, maps, newspaper clippings, pamphlets, and magazine articles serve as recognized examples of printed reference sources. Some printed sources are reproduced in microform format, either as microfilm or microfiche. These formats save valuable library space and often provide access to materials no longer available in printed form. Many reference sources are now available in computerized formats, such as CD-ROM, online databases, and the Internet. Examples of these sources include Elizabeth Petty Bentley’s Genealogist’s All-in-One Address Book (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1996) and FamilySearch (Salt Lake City: Family History Department, annual), both on CD-ROM.

Librarians usually keep the most current editions of reference books. The currency of reference sources is especially important where population figures, addresses, and telephone numbers are concerned. Some reference books are published yearly because the information they contain changes that frequently. For example, the American Library Directory (discussed below) is published annually, reflecting the changes in library staffs, budgets, and holdings nationwide. Researchers can use this source to learn what libraries are in the geographical area of their family research.

Not all reference books have to be the most current editions to be of value. Some older reference books are valuable because they contain information no longer available in more current sources; this is true of gazetteers for earlier time periods and high school and college yearbooks. Such reference sources actually become more valuable with age.

A standard book that librarians use to locate reference sources is the Guide to Reference Books, 11th ed., edited by Robert Balay (Chicago: American Library Association, 1996). This edition lists more than fifteen thousand reference books in thirty-eight subject areas. David Heighton, a librarian at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, compiled the section on genealogy reference books. Heighton’s coverage is worldwide and includes the best genealogy reference books published in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Asia. A brief annotation describes each reference book and characterizes its usefulness. Most of the reference sources described below are found in the Guide to Reference Books.


Printed Sources: A Guide to Published Genealogical Records


Publication Information:

Introduction - By Kory L. Meyerink

Origin of InformationCategories of Research Sources and ToolsEvaluation of Printed SourcesDocumentation and CopyrightLearning What Printed Sources ExistPublishers and DistributorsRepositories of Printed SourcesEffective Use of Libraries and Archives

Chapter 1: General Reference - Martha L. Henderson

Unique Resources in Public LibrariesDewey Decimal Classification SystemReference SourcesEncyclopediasGeneral History SourcesSocial History SourcesAlmanacs, Chronologies, and Statistical SourcesUsing DirectoriesLocal DirectoriesPrinted Professional DirectoriesInstitutional DirectoriesDirectories of Groups and AssociationsSource GuidesGeneral Language DictionariesHistorical and Etymological DictionariesSlang DictionariesSubject DictionariesSurname DictionariesGovernment DocumentsUsing BibliographiesElectronic SourcesReferences for Printed Sources: Chapter 1

Chapter 2: Instructional Materials - Sandra Hargreaves Luebking

Introduction to Instructional MattersHow-To Guides and Manuals for AdultsHow-to Guides and Manuals for Young PeopleGenealogy Technologies and Refinement of SkillsCourses and Programs of StudyPeriodical ArticlesIdentifying and Obtaining Instructional MaterialsEvaluating Instructional MaterialsSelecting Textbooks for Classroom UseThe Future of Instructional MaterialsReferences for Printed Sources: Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Introduction to Geographic ToolsIntroduction to Maps and GazettersMapping of a New NationRoutes to the WestCanals and WaterwaysRailroadsPolitical MapsNineteenth-Century MapsUSGS Topographic MapsOrdering Topographic Map Names and NumbersOrdering Topographic MapsDigital Topographic MapsOut-of-Print Topographic MapsFact Sheets and General Interest PublicationsOther Types of USGS MapsNineteenth-Century National GazetteersTwentieth-Century National GazetteersPostal Guides and Shipping GuidesMaps, Gazetteers, and the ComputerFinding Geographic ToolsUsing Geographic ToolsReferences for Printed Sources: Chapter 3

Chapter 4

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Chapter 5

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Chapter 6

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Chapter 7

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Chapter 8

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Chapter 9

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Chapter 10

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Chapter 11

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Chapter 12

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Chapter 13

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Chapter 14

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Chapter 15

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Chapter 16

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Chapter 17

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Chapter 18

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Chapter 19

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Chapter 20

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Appendix

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