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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.