Crash Course in Genealogy

by David R. Dowell


Who am I? It's an intriguing question that has made genealogy research one of America's most popular hobbies. Where does one begin such research? What resources exist? How do you go beyond America's borders to find roots in "the old country," wherever that may be, and why your ancestors left? Those answers and many more are now at hand.

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Cover image for Crash Course in Genealogy

June 2011

Libraries Unlimited

Pages 220
Volumes 1
Size 8 1/2x11
Topics Adult Services and Programs/General
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A basic, how-to book written primarily to prepare librarians to assist genealogy researchers, this guide can also be used by those who wish to discover and document their family histories.

There has been an explosion of interest in genealogy recently, with popular series running on PBS (Faces of America), NBC (Who Do You Think You Are?) and BYU-TV (The Generations Project). Even Lisa Simpson did a genealogy project for school. Part of the popular Crash Course series, Crash Course in Genealogy will help librarians feel more comfortable as they work with the increasing number of patrons looking for assistance in researching their family trees.

Beginning with library genealogical services policies, the guide moves on to cover genealogical research principles and most-used sources. It also illustrates how one can perform a search backward in time through American family history. The book includes information on researching people of color, taking research to another country, and adding DNA information to genealogical research. Examples from the author's decades-long experience as a genealogist enrich the text, while illustrations of census records and the like help readers understand the research process.


  • Timelines listing events for each century in U.S. history that may have created records about family members
  • Illustrations of census records, pedigree charts, family group sheets, and DNA results
  • Maps of both Y-chromosome (male) and mitochondrial (female) DNA haplogroups to illustrate the deep historical migration of our ancestors
  • Activities and a reading list for expanding one's knowledge and keeping up-to-date with current developments
  • An extensive glossary


  • Uses examples from the author's personal research to illustrate how a search is conducted
  • Explains starting points for helping patrons extend family-history research to other countries
  • Tutors librarians on helping patrons interpret DNA test results to further their family history research
  • Offers suggestions and resources for those who wish to go beyond the basic training provided here
Author Info

David R. Dowell has two degrees in history and two in library science, thirty-five years experience as a librarian, and four as a special investigative officer in the U.S. Air Force. Since his retirement in 2007, he has taught courses in U.S. genealogy research and European genealogy research. Dowell, who has researched his own family history for four decades, is a member of the National Genealogical Society, New England Historic Genealogical Society, Southern California Genealogy Society, and the San Luis Obispo County Genealogical Society. He is co-coordinator of two surname DNA projects and currently chairs the Genealogy Committee of the American Library Association. Dowell is coauthor of Libraries in the Information Age: An Introduction and Career Exploration and It's All About Student Learning: Managing Community and other College Libraries in the 21st Century. He writes the blog "Dr D Diggs Up Ancestors" at



"This is a great book for beginners as well as those further advanced in their genealogical pursuits. The DNA chapter is especially helpful for those who want to understand more than just the basics before they take the plunge in to DNA testing. Those who have already done the testing and want a better understanding of their results will also benefit from this chapter."Middle Tennessee Journal of Genealogy & History

"Ably illustrated and clearly presented, this book should help readers rattle some bones in their family closets. . . . Although aimed at librarians, the book can be profitably enjoyed by anyone wanting to learn about a rapidly expanding hobby."Library Journal

"The author chaired ALA's Genealogy Committee and clearly understands the topic. His chapter on DNA research, his pragmatic advice to library staff and to individuals on where to start and how to move on, and the specific information he provides about sources such as the Centennia Historical Atlas software package and Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness website are enlightening, and even the experienced researcher will learn something."Booklist Online

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