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Friday, July 6, 2012

Surname Books

Most of the larger genealogy libraries have collections of surname books. Chances are, especially if any of your ancestors immigrated to America before 1800, your family has a surname book out there somewhere. I define a surname book as any book dedicated to one family line with a common surname. Most of the books begin with either the immigrant to America or a prominent ancestor. Here are a few examples from my own family:

  • Overson, Margaret Godfrey (Jarvis). George Jarvis and Joseph George De Friez Genealogy. Mesa, Ariz: s.n, 1957. 
  • Parkinson, Diane, and John Parkinson. James Parkinson of Ramsey: His Roots and His Branches : England, Australia, America : a Biographical History and Genealogical Record of the Family of James and Elizabeth Chattle Parkinson. Austin, Tex: Published for the James Parkinson Family Association by Historical Publications, 1987.  
  • Tanner, George S. Henry Martin Tanner, Joseph City, Arizona Pioneer. 1964. 
  • Richardson, Arthur M., and Nicholas G. Morgan. The Life and Ministry of John Morgan: For a Wise and Glorious Purpose. [S.l.]: N.G. Morgan, 1965.  
  • De Brouwer, Elizabeth. Sidney Tanner, His Ancestors and Descendants: Pioneer Freighter of the West, 1809-1895. Salt Lake City, Utah (4545 S. 2760 E., Salt Lake City 84117): S. Tanner Family Organization, 1982. 
 But, you say, your family must be unusual to have so many books. Not particularly. I only listed a few until I got tired of looking them up for this post. I would guess there are dozens more had I gone back to more remote ancestors. The point is that you will not know if there is a surname book unless you start looking in library catalogs. Even then, you might have to dig a little to find the title, not all of the books start out with the name of the ancestor followed by genealogy or descendants or whatever.

But there is a major problem. Very few of these compiled works have any source citations for the information. This includes the books I listed above. Sometimes you will find mistakes that have been copied from previous versions or incarnations of the book. Anything you read, like one of my great-grandmothers who was supposed to be the illegitimate daughter of one of the kings of England, should be verified. But even if you find some of the information unreliable, you need to know that these sources exist.

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