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Finding Aids: Encyclopedias

Finding aids assist genealogists in obtaining the information they need. One finding aid valuable to the genealogist is an encyclopedia. All types of encyclopedias exist that can help researchers increase their genealogical knowledge, provide information about their ancestor's way of life, and uncover additional clues.


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Type: Article
Resource: GenWeekly
Prepared by: Gena Philibert-Ortega
Word Count: 671 (approx.)
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Finding aids assist genealogists in obtaining the information they need. According to E. Kay Kirkham's, A Study in Finding Aids for American Genealogical Research, "A finding aid assists in locating additional information, it gives reference to more information along a sustained line of searching in a given area." One finding aid valuable to the genealogist is an encyclopedia. Now most of us are familiar with a standard encyclopedia, whether it be online or in a series of hardback books on our bookshelf. According to the web site Library Lingo, the definition of an encyclopedia is a "book or set of books of informative articles usually arranged in alphabetical order." All types of encyclopedias exist that can help researchers increase their genealogical knowledge, provide information about their ancestor's way of life, and uncover additional clues.

Genealogical Encyclopedias

Sometimes an encyclopedia can provide you with an overview of a subject. Dick Eastman's Encyclopedia of Genealogy located at Encyclopedia of Genealogy includes articles on "genealogical techniques." This is a place to find out how to conduct research, what different genealogical terms mean, and where to find historical records. This encyclopedia web site allows you to search on a term and then choose the corresponding articles that can help you. Searching on the term "Canadian" brought results ranging from specific terms involved in French Canadian research such as dit names, Filles du Roi, and a generalized article on Canadian townships. In addition, there were general articles on sending cash overseas and research facilities.

The web site Family History 101,, has several online encyclopedias and glossaries that can assist in your genealogical research. Genealogical abbreviations; Early Illnesses & Diseases; Early Occupations; Common Nicknames; Tombstone Symbols; Genealogical Terms; and Worldwide Epidemics are all represented here.

Religious Encyclopedias

The Encyclopedia of Quaker Genealogy, 1750-1930 is a six-volume work compiled by William Wade Hinshaw from Quaker monthly meeting records. This work provides information on over 400,000 Quakers that lived in New Jersey, New York, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. This collection is available online through at An index of the encyclopedia is located at Where Did Hinshaw Put Those Quaker Records? . The actual encyclopedia is available for purchase through various book retailers. It is also available on microfilm through the Family History Library.

An encyclopedia that can assist you in learning more about the Catholic faith is found at While this will not provide information on your specific Catholic ancestor, it will provide you with a better understanding of their faith. Several other faiths have similar online or book form encyclopedias that explain tenants of their religion, including the Encyclopedia of Mormonism by Daniel H. Ludlow (ISBN 0028796063); Seventh-Day Adventist Encyclopedia (ISBN 082800918X); Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online at Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online; and the Baptist Encyclopedia available at A web site provides digitized pages of biographies from the Baptist Encyclopedia (1883) at

Fraternal Orders

Mackey's Encyclopedia of Freemasonry can be found at Part of the web site for Phoenximasonary, several e-books can be found here. This encyclopedia is also available as a download for $6.99 at ebookmall at For those interested in fraternal and secret societies throughout time there is The International Encyclopedia of Secret Societies and Fraternal Orders (ISBN 0816038716). The Encyclopedia of Economic and Business History has an article entitled Fraternal Sickness Insurance at that explains organizations such as Woodmen of the World and the important role they played in the lives of workers.


The Encyclopedia of Indianapolis, edited by David J Bodenhamer et al. is available as a book preview, digitally online through Google Books. This work includes timelines, statistic, articles about African Americans, neighborhoods and communities, women and more.

The Utah History Encyclopedia, includes 575 articles and 200 historic photographs about Utah topics including people, organizations, locations, and institutions. Article topics are searchable through an alphabetical index.

The Handbook of Texas Online, is the work of the University of Texas at Austin. This great resource provides information on historical figures, Texas locations, and events. You can use the online search engine or and alphabetical index to search the pages.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2007.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.

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