Recommended Books on UK & Ireland Genealogy


In spite of the wealth of introductory and reference material available online, genealogy books by acknowledged experts remain important sources of information on genealogical records and advice on how to make the most of them.

The general principles and methods of genealogical research do not change, but bear in mind that the older the book, the less likely it is to have correct current information about what is and is not available online, and the location, organization and facilities of local record offices also change over time.

Books which are available in electronic editions have been indicated by an asterisk.

General Guides

Colwell, Stella. Tracing Your Family History, 3rd revised edition, Teach Yourself. (2007), 308 pp. ISBN-13: 978-0340928301.

An excellent introductory text-book by the Family and Local History Specialist Reader Adviser at the Public Record Office, Kew, in the long-established and well-respected "Teach Yourself" series. It is in fact the second edition of a book that was first published in 1997, and has been extensively revised in order to include good up to date coverage of Internet resources. It is, for an introductory text, very comprehensive - its set of chapters comprises:- Getting Started; Getting Help; Sorting out the Facts; Starting Out Your Research: Births, Marriages and Deaths; Births, Marriages and Deaths in the Channel Islands, Isle of Man, Scotland and Ireland; Births, Marriages and Deaths at Sea and Abroad; Searching the Census; Other Name Lists; Finding Your Way to the Records; Searching Parish Registers; The Nonconformists; Parish Registers in the Rest of the British Isles, Ireland and the United States of America; Wills and Other Probate Records; Probate Records elsewhere in the British Isles, Ireland and the United States of America; Fred Karno and his Army: Case Studies; Writing it all up.

Herber, M.D. Ancestral Trails: The Complete Guide to British Genealogy and Family History, 2nd edition, Sutton Publishing in assoc. with The Society of Genealogists (2005), 873 pp. ISBN 0-7509-4198-7.

"This new edition takes account the many changes in the field since Ancestral Trails was first published in 1997, and is the most comprehensive and up to date guide to tracing British ancestry. It guides the researcher through the substantial British archives with a detailed view of the records and published sources available. Research in Scotland, Wales, Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands is also covered, as are the latest developments in information technology applications on CD and through the internet." - see GENUKI's review of this edition, supplementing its detailed review of the first edition.

Hey, David. The Oxford Guide to Family History, Oxford, O.U.P. (2002), 246 pp. ISBN 0192803131.

"The Oxford Guide to Family History is not just another guide to the mechanics of constructing a family tree. David Hey shows how to go beyond this and discover the reality of the lives of your ancestors. Who were they? Where did they live? How did they earn their living? Family history is a subject with broad concerns, including the origin, spread and sometimes decline and disappearance of families. The work of social historians is therefore of great interest, whether dealing with the size of families, the ages at which people married, or the mobility of the population. David Hey highlights those aspects of social history which are most relevant to family history research and suggests lines of enquiry that may be followed with profit and enjoyment by family historians - the past and present distribution of surnames, the stability of certain families, and the mobility of others. Practical guidance is given on the basics of research - how to get started, where to find records - and there are many illustrations both in colour and black and white, showing family groups, houses, monuments, archive records, and family trees. In making the fruits of the latest scholarship available to the family historian, David Hey provides an authoritative introduction to the subject as well as a stimulating guide for those wishing to proceed to a more advanced stage of research."

Osborne, Helen, Genealogy: Essential Research Methods, London, Robert Hale (2012), 208 pp. ISBN-13: 978-0709091974. *2015

From the publisher: "This book is the ideal companion for anybody researching their family tree. It provides advice and inspiration on methods and problem-solving and helps the amateur family historian understand what successful professionals do to get results, and why we should copy them. Over ten chapters, it examines the various themes that affect the success or failure of all genealogy research. This begins with an overview of common challenges genealogists encounter and continues with an examination of how to both search effectively and find the right documentary sources. Using examples from her own family history as well as client work, teacher and professional genealogist Helen Osborn demonstrates how to get the most from documents, analyze problems and build research plans. These subjects lead on to recording results, how to ensure relationships are correctly proved, organizing information and presenting your findings. Although the book deals mainly with research in England and Wales, the skills taught are easily transferable to research in other countries."

Waddell, Dan, Who Do You Think You Are?: The Genealogy Handbook, BBC Books (2018), 192 pp., ISBN-13: 978-1785943423 *

"This official Who Do You Think You Are? jargon-free guide equips you with the tools you need to start your own journey into your family's past, and get relevant results fast. There is information on everything from how to order birth certificates and track down immigration records, to drilling down on specifics such as finding out if your army officer great-great grandfather w-as ever awarded a military medal." (Publisher)

Reference Works

Hey, David, (Ed.). The Oxford Companion to Family and Local History, 2nd edition, Oxford University Press (2010), 704 pp. ISBN-13: 978-0199532971.*

"The Oxford Companion to Family and Local History is the most comprehensive and authoritative guide available to all things associated with the family and local history of the British Isles. It provides practical and contextual information for anyone enquiring into their English, Irish, Scottish, or Welsh origins and for anyone working in genealogical research, or the social history of the British Isles. This fully revised and updated edition contains over 2,000 entries from adoption to World War records. There are recommended web links for many entries. This edition advises how to research your family tree using the internet and details the full range of online resources available." (Publisher)
If you have a UK public library card, you can consult the full text online free of charge at the Oxford Reference site.

Rogers, Colin D. The Family Tree Detective. A manual for tracing your ancestors in England and Wales, 4th revised edition, Manchester Univ. Press (2008), 320 pp. ISBN-13: 978-0719071263.

An excellent detailed guide to basic UK genealogy. From the publisher's blurb: "A problem-solving manual rather than a simple "how-to" guide. The Family Tree Detective explains what to do when the usual methods fail and provides invaluable assistance for those without access to London's vast resources of genealogical information.".

Few, Janet. The Family Historian's Enquire Within, 6th revised edition, The Family History Partnership (2014), 296 pp. ISBN-13: 978-1906280116.

An excellent general reference book for UK and Irish research. The publisher's blurb claims, without too much hyperbole: "Arranged alphabetically, it contains bibliographies, addresses, definitions, explanations, dates and maps on every conceivable topic the family historian may need".

Genealogical Records

Annal, David & Collins, Audrey, Birth, Marriage and Death Records: A Guide for Family Historians, Pen & Sword Books (2012), 224 pp. ISBN-13: 978-1848845725. *

"An introductory guide for the uninitiated, Dave Annal and Audrey Collins' introduction to the holy trinity of family history resources takes BMDs by their horns, explaining and elucidating how documentary evidence of these three junctures in our ancestors' life can be used in our pursuits of genealogical knowledge." (Your Family History)

Christian, Peter & Annal, David, Census: The Family Historian s Guide, 2nd edition, Bloomsbury (2014), 368 pp., ISBN-13: 978-1472902931*

"This practical guide to using censuses in your family research shows you how to interpret intricate details of your ancestors lives, but also explores how and why information was gathered on names, addresses, family relationships and occupations" (Publisher)

National Records of Scotland, Tracing Your Scottish Ancestors, 7th edition, Birlinn, 2020, 272 pp., ISBN-13 : 978-1780276335

The official guide to Scottish records "details all the latest internet developments, including a chapter on family history on the web. It also points to more traditional resources, explaining step by step how to research records of births, marriages and wills." (Publisher)

Grenham, John, Tracing Your Irish Ancestors, 5th edition, Gill Books (2019), 688 pp., ISBN-13: 978-0717174652.*

"When a non-fiction book reaches its 5th edition, it's fair to assume the title has achieved a classic status among its intended audience... tried and trusted as it is delivering an understanding of how Irish records work and how and where to find them. " Claire Santry, Irish Genealogy News

Specific Topics

The Society of Genealogists has an extensive series of guides (currently 30) in the My Ancestor series. Each guide provides an introduction to family history research for a particular occupation (e.g. coalminer, clergyman), social status (e.g. bastard, gentleman), religion (e.g. congregationalist), or localty (e.g. West Indies, Scotland).

Pen & Sword has over 100 guides, covering many different aspects.of family history: "There are volumes on the most important types of records for family historians and guides to the family history of the British regions and principal cities. Also included are introductions to the armed services and the world wars, to types of work, and to the major industries and professions" (Publisher).

Internet-Related Guides

Christian, Peter. The Genealogist's Internet, 5th revised edition, Bloomsbury (2012), 448 pp. ISBN-13: 978-1408159576. *

"This much-expanded second edition of the best-selling The Genealogist's Internet contains everything you need to know about family history on the Web. It describes: on-line records and web sites of national and local archives in the UK; on-line historical and geographical resources of interest to family historians; services provided by genealogical organisations via the internet; how to use mailing lists and newsgroups to find advice and others who share your interests; how to locate genealogical information on-line; how to publish your own family history on the Web"

Hawgood, David. Genuki: UK and Ireland Genealogy on the Internet 2000, Birmingham, Federation of Family History Societies (2000) 48 pp. ISBN: 1860061117.

"This is a book about GENUKI, an information service on the Internet for United Kingdom and Ireland Genealogy. It shows what type of information is in GENUKI, and how to find it. Regard GENUKI as the first place to look for U.K. and Ireland genealogy. It contains a great deal of information in its own web pages, including some transcripts and indexes, and has thousands of links to other information on the Internet. This book is being published in two forms, on-line and as a printed book. They have the same text and examples (with minor modifications for the different formats)." - associated website