One of the books that I refer to often is The Family Tree Guide Book from the editors of Family Tree Magazine. (ISBN: 1-55870-647-X). This book is divided into regions of the Untied States. Each regional chapter provides histories, maps, statistics, web sites, and repositories that can assist you in researching that area. One of the features that I particularly like is that each state has a "state stats" box that provides the year of statehood; when vital records began; the address for the states vital statistics office; and what U.S. federal census and city directory years are available at the Family History Library. Additional sections of this book include Canadian research, African American Roots, and Native American Roots.
On a recent trip to the library, I checked out Kathleen Hinckley's Locating Lost Family Members & Friends: Modern genealogical research techniques for locating the people of your past and present. (ISBN: 1-55870-503-1). I think this is a great book for beginners who need an overview of what records provide what types of information. It's also good for more advanced genealogists for it's various web sites and book recommendations. One of the gems you can pick up from this book is in the section on birth certificates. The author provides information on how to access non-traditional birth certificates like those for U.S. citizens born in foreign countries, alien children adopted by U.S. citizens, and births on seagoing vessels.
One of my favorite genealogy texts is George Morgan's, How to do Everything with Your Genealogy (ISBN: 007223170X). I think the title is a little misleading. When I first received this book, I thought it would be one of those that tells you about how to display your end result, how to create scrapbooks, charts, books etc. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is a great overall genealogical reference book on researching your ancestors. Packed with information, tips, web sites and case studies--any genealogist could benefit from this book. Chapters in this book include: Place your ancestors into context and locate vital records; Use census schedules and records to locate your ancestors; further your research with advanced record types; Follow alternative record paths to locate difficult records; and Plan a very successful genealogical research trip. Additional chapters look at military and immigration records and researching on the Internet. A case study provides the reader with the benefit of reading exactly how the methods in the book were used to research an ancestor.
Most people who know me know that one of my favorite aspects of family history is putting a family in a social history perspective. Because of this, one of my favorite books is Bringing you Family History to Life through Social History by Katherine Scott Sturdevant (ISBN: 1558705104). This book is a great resource for genealogists looking to make their family history narratives and research more interesting to the non-genealogists in the family. Sturdevant provides genealogists with ideas for resources for learning more about different time periods.
One of Sturdevant's suggestions, and another of my favorite series of books, is the Foxfire series. Back in the late 1960's Elliot Wigginton and his high school students did America a great service when they set out to record the customs, culture, and ways of the people who lived in the Southern Appalachians. What came out of those oral history interviews was a set of books called, Foxfire. Maybe you've seen them at garage sales or as library discards. These are wonderful books that describe activities that once were a part of everyday life for our ancestors. I have used one of the Foxfire books in describing how my ancestor built a log cabin; the Foxfire Book (the first in the series) details that process. Other subjects covered in the Foxfire series include hog dressing, moonshine, making tar, quilting, faith healing, shoemaking, music and other interesting topics. You can pick these books up inexpensively at used book sales or you can purchase reprints through various bookstores.
William Dollarhide's New York State Census and Substitutes (ISBN: 1933194-18-9) is a wonderful reference for those researching ancestors in New York. New York research can seem so overwhelming. This book provides you with additional ideas for research resources beyond the usual standards such as the U.S. Federal Census, vital records, military, and immigration records. Organized by county, the book not only provides you with citations for census substitutes such as tax lists, histories, and court records but, when applicable, Dollarhide provides the Family History Library microfilm number. I think that no research of New York ancestors is complete without consulting and using the resources found in this book.
An invaluable book to understanding the history of New York City is The Historical Atlas of New York City: A Visual Celebration of New York City's History by Eric Homberger (ISBN: 0-8050-6004-9). Packed with maps both old and new, as well as vintage pictures, this book makes understanding the history of New York City and the divisions in neighborhoods much easier.
As I peruse used book stores, book sales at genealogical conferences, and new booksellers, I am always looking out for inexpensive books that will help me better understand a historical era, place or custom. Books ranging from state histories, to historical maps, to military uniform books help me to be better able to understand my ancestors. Although most of the books mentioned above are genealogy books, don't forget to search for books from the history, women's studies, military, reference and social studies sections of the bookstore.