The best genealogy books

4 authors have picked their favorite books about genealogy and why they recommend each book.

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Common People

By Alison Light,

Book cover of Common People: The History of an English Family

This book is more than just a history of the author’s family. It is full of reflections on life and on family and history in general. At times reading like a detective story, this book inspired me to write about family history. The author delves deep into her working-class origins and explores the lives of characters whose stories – much like the Robinsons in my own work - would have been lost if it had not been for the publication of this book.

Common People

By Alison Light,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Common People as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Shortlisted for the 2014 Samuel Johnson Prize

'Part detective story, part Dickensian saga, part labour history. A thrilling and unnerving read' Observer

'Mesmeric and deeply moving' Daily Telegraph

'Remarkable, haunting, full of wisdom' The Times

Family history is a massive phenomenon of our times but what are we after when we go in search of our ancestors? Beginning with her grandparents, Alison Light moves between the present and the past, in an extraordinary series of journeys over two centuries, across Britain and beyond.

Epic in scope and deep in feeling, Common People is a family history but also a new…


Who am I?

I became interested in social and family history when my Turkish friend, Ahmet Ceylan, told me amazing stories about his family. An academic by training, I used my expertise in the history of Turkey to explore the archives and uncover extraordinary details about the lives of the Robinsons. My field research took me to the wolds of Lincolnshire, the side streets of Istanbul, and the foothills of the Himalayas. I am keen to learn more about my own family, and for my next book, I am exploring the lives of people who owned/occupied the land/property where I live in Oxford, UK.


I wrote...

Whispers Across Continents: In Search of the Robinsons

By Gareth M. Winrow,

Book cover of Whispers Across Continents: In Search of the Robinsons

What is my book about?

This book focuses on the amazing life of the surprisingly little-known Hannah Rodda/Robinson. Raised in the slums of London’s East End in the 1850s and a housemaid of one of Queen Victoria’s doctors, the self-made Hannah later marries a former Lincolnshire farmer who owns tea estates in the Darjeeling district. After his death, Hannah becomes one of the first women in Victorian England to convert to Islam, marries a supposed Afghan warlord, and relocates to Constantinople. The marriage is a disaster but, astonishingly, the Sultan himself comes to Hannah’s rescue. One of Hannah’s sons, Ahmet Robenson, becomes a sporting legend in the Ottoman Empire and Turkey, playing as goalkeeper for the Galatasaray soccer team and introducing basketball and the Scouting movement.

Hiding the Past

By Nathan Dylan Goodwin,

Book cover of Hiding the Past

Peter Coldrick is a man without a past, that is until he hires forensic genealogist, Morton Farrier. There are those who will go to any lengths to ensure that Coldrick’s origins remain hidden. Morton’s investigations lead him into danger and make him realise that he needs to begin the quest to uncover the story of his own hidden past.

Hiding the Past

By Nathan Dylan Goodwin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Hiding the Past as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Who am I?

I inhabit the past. You may find me lurking in my four-hundred-year-old Devon cottage, or spot me thinly disguised as the formidable Mistress Agnes, a good wife of a certain age who leads a somewhat chaotic life during the mid-seventeenth century. I write, I read, I research, I share my passion, I write some more. My life revolves around reading, writing and researching history. Having spent the past forty-five years unravelling my own family’s story and loving both historical and crime novels, what could be better than a book that combines all these elements. I have to say that if genealogy was as dangerous a career as some of these books imply, no one would be advised to take it up!


I wrote...

Sins as Red as Scarlet: a Devon Town in Turmoil

By Janet Few,

Book cover of Sins as Red as Scarlet: a Devon Town in Turmoil

What is my book about?

Sins as Red as Scarlet is the unfolding of the lives of those whose prejudices and fears were shaped by the turmoil of plague, of war, and of religious dissent. The novel sheds new light on the true story of three impoverished women who were condemned to death in 1682 for the crime of witchcraft.

I particularly wanted to draw modern parallels, so in the novel, we also meet Martha, who is living in a slightly alternative version of 2020. Sixteen-year-old Martha, herself a bullies’ target, undertakes a school local history project. Probing the motivations and beliefs of Bideford’s seventeenth-century residents, Martha comes to understand how past events might lead ordinary people to become the victims, the accusers, or the accused.

The Cost of Silence

By John Nixon,

Book cover of The Cost of Silence

The Cost of Silence begins with the murder of a genealogist. Have they been silenced before they could uncover something inconvenient? Twenty-three years later, can genealogist Madeline Porter retrace the research of the dead genealogist and uncover a motive for his murder? More to the point, will she put herself in danger if she does?

The Cost of Silence

By John Nixon,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Cost of Silence as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Who am I?

I inhabit the past. You may find me lurking in my four-hundred-year-old Devon cottage, or spot me thinly disguised as the formidable Mistress Agnes, a good wife of a certain age who leads a somewhat chaotic life during the mid-seventeenth century. I write, I read, I research, I share my passion, I write some more. My life revolves around reading, writing and researching history. Having spent the past forty-five years unravelling my own family’s story and loving both historical and crime novels, what could be better than a book that combines all these elements. I have to say that if genealogy was as dangerous a career as some of these books imply, no one would be advised to take it up!


I wrote...

Sins as Red as Scarlet: a Devon Town in Turmoil

By Janet Few,

Book cover of Sins as Red as Scarlet: a Devon Town in Turmoil

What is my book about?

Sins as Red as Scarlet is the unfolding of the lives of those whose prejudices and fears were shaped by the turmoil of plague, of war, and of religious dissent. The novel sheds new light on the true story of three impoverished women who were condemned to death in 1682 for the crime of witchcraft.

I particularly wanted to draw modern parallels, so in the novel, we also meet Martha, who is living in a slightly alternative version of 2020. Sixteen-year-old Martha, herself a bullies’ target, undertakes a school local history project. Probing the motivations and beliefs of Bideford’s seventeenth-century residents, Martha comes to understand how past events might lead ordinary people to become the victims, the accusers, or the accused.

Book cover of File Under Fear (Anna Ames Mysteries)

Probate genealogist, Anna Ames, is given the task of researching the history of the Draycott family. As she does so, she is drawn into the lives of this dysfunctional family, who are not as conventional as they seem. Her research unfolds against a background of the warm portrayal of Anna’s own family life with her husband, who has early-onset dementia, her teenage children, her poetry-loving father, and Bobble the dog.

File Under Fear (Anna Ames Mysteries)

By Geraldine Wall,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked File Under Fear (Anna Ames Mysteries) as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Who am I?

I inhabit the past. You may find me lurking in my four-hundred-year-old Devon cottage, or spot me thinly disguised as the formidable Mistress Agnes, a good wife of a certain age who leads a somewhat chaotic life during the mid-seventeenth century. I write, I read, I research, I share my passion, I write some more. My life revolves around reading, writing and researching history. Having spent the past forty-five years unravelling my own family’s story and loving both historical and crime novels, what could be better than a book that combines all these elements. I have to say that if genealogy was as dangerous a career as some of these books imply, no one would be advised to take it up!


I wrote...

Sins as Red as Scarlet: a Devon Town in Turmoil

By Janet Few,

Book cover of Sins as Red as Scarlet: a Devon Town in Turmoil

What is my book about?

Sins as Red as Scarlet is the unfolding of the lives of those whose prejudices and fears were shaped by the turmoil of plague, of war, and of religious dissent. The novel sheds new light on the true story of three impoverished women who were condemned to death in 1682 for the crime of witchcraft.

I particularly wanted to draw modern parallels, so in the novel, we also meet Martha, who is living in a slightly alternative version of 2020. Sixteen-year-old Martha, herself a bullies’ target, undertakes a school local history project. Probing the motivations and beliefs of Bideford’s seventeenth-century residents, Martha comes to understand how past events might lead ordinary people to become the victims, the accusers, or the accused.

Out of Egypt

By Andre Aciman,

Book cover of Out of Egypt: A Memoir

This is among the most exquisitely rendered memoirs I have ever read. It recounts Aciman’s boyhood in the cosmopolitan world of Alexandria, Egypt, in the 1950s, just before the ethnic nationalism of Egypt’s leader, Gamal Abdal Nassar, swept this world away. Every sentence exudes tender nostalgia for a vanished milieu. It is, profoundly, an exile’s book, mourning and celebrating a life that has been lost.

Out of Egypt

By Andre Aciman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Out of Egypt as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This richly coloured memoir chronicles the exploits of a flamboyant Jewish family, from its bold arrival in cosmopolitan Alexandria to its defeated exodus three generations later. In elegant and witty prose, Andre Aciman introduces us to the marvellous eccentrics who shaped his life: the strutting daredevil, soldier, salesman, and spy; the two grandmothers, the Princess and the Saint, who gossip in six languages; and Aunt Flora, the German refugee who warns that Jews lose everything "at least twice in their lives." And through it all, we come to know a boy who, even as he longs for a wider world,…

Who am I?

In 2010, I met a Somali refugee in Cape Town. His name was Asad Abdullahi. He told the tale of his life with a richness bordering on genius and I was hooked. I spent the next two years tracing his childhood footsteps through the Horn of Africa, looking for anyone and everyone he had encountered. In the course of writing a book about him, I read countless other books about exile, migration, and human beings on the move. My five recommendations are among the books that helped me imagine the experience of exile best. 


I wrote...

A Man of Good Hope

By Jonny Steinberg,

Book cover of A Man of Good Hope

What is my book about?

This book tells the story of a young Somali man, Asad Abdullahi. Separated from his family at the age of seven at the onset of civil war, he spent his childhood roaming the streets of East Africa.

Aged 19, Asad put $1,200 in his pocket and headed down the length of the African continent to Johannesburg to make his fortune. So began an adventure in a country richer and more violent than he could have imagined. A Man of Good Hope is the story of a person shorn of the things we have come to believe make us human – personal possessions, parents, siblings. And yet Asad is an intensely human life, one suffused with desires and a need to leave something of permanence on this earth.

Book cover of Women's Lives, Women's Legacies: Passing Your Beliefs and Blessings to Future Generations

When I first considered becoming a legacy educator, Women’s Lives, Women’s Legacies was the first book I read on the subject of legacy. This comprehensive book written by Rachel Freed presents women with the opportunity to explore their entire lives with the goal of creating something in writing that is a record of who they are and what has mattered in their lives. The book is divided into three sections: The past where readers examine family history and the legacies of feminine ancestors, the present where they explore who they are and where they came from, and the future where they put their legacy into words. Each chapter affords the reader the opportunity to reflect and create a legacy work to leave behind.

Women's Lives, Women's Legacies

By Rachael Freed,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Women's Lives, Women's Legacies as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Who am I?

In my 26 years as a Holocaust educator, I worked closely with hundreds of Holocaust survivors helping them to pass along their legacy of remembrance to thousands of students and teachers. When I retired, I developed and began teaching a course entitled Living and Leaving Your Legacy®. Since 2012, I have taught 64 classes and have spoken to audiences locally, nationally, and internationally. My goal is to help people understand that how we live our lives becomes our legacy. I have worked with individuals at the end of their lives helping them to do sacred legacy work and have trained hospice staffs and volunteers to do the same.


I wrote...

Living and Leaving My Legacy, Vol. 1

By Merle R. Saferstein,

Book cover of Living and Leaving My Legacy, Vol. 1

What is my book about?

Imagine having a written record of your life—your thoughts, feelings, lessons learned, conversations, encounters, memories, dreams, travel adventures, and more. In Living and Leaving My Legacy, Vol. 1, Merle R. Saferstein shares carefully curated excerpts from over 40 years of her journaling. Each is a sampling of her life: the good and bad, the easy and difficult, the challenges and breakthroughs. Saferstein has organized these excerpts by the major experiences of life as a woman, wife, mother, educator, and more. Chapters conclude with thought-provoking journal prompts meant to inspire readers and deepen their life journey. In reading this legacy journal, the reader will better understand that how we live our lives becomes our legacy.

The Jesus Dynasty

By James D. Tabor,

Book cover of The Jesus Dynasty: The Hidden History of Jesus, His Royal Family, and the Birth of Christianity

A well-written, well researched book by a prominent American archeologist and New Testament scholar that examines what we can now reliably know about the Jesus of history. Tabor carefully sifts through the conflicting evidence in the gospels, written 40-70 years after the death of Jesus, and illuminates his discussion with contemporary archeological finds. A paradigm changer in our search for the historical Jesus, not the Christ of faith.

The Jesus Dynasty

By James D. Tabor,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Jesus Dynasty as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

If you thought Dan Brown's fiction was gripping, try the truth. This controversial book pieces together new evidence on the real life of Jesus. The true inspiration behind Kathy Reich's bestselling thriller, "Crossbones", archaeologist and scholar James Tabor takes us on a startling journey that changes the story of Christianity as we know it. Based on hand-on archaeological experience and ground-breaking academic research, real-life Indiana Jones, James Tabor, has produced a compelling and bold new interpretation of the life of Jesus and the origins of Christianity. So impressive is his work that Kathy Reichs, bestselling mystery writer of the "Tempe…

Who am I?

Barrie is an historian specializing in early Christianity. Today we now know that there were many different movements within the first few centuries, each claiming to be Christian. James’ Jewish group differed from Paul’s Christ religion and both differed from Gnostic Christianity which saw Jesus as a teacher of insight. None was dominant. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Gnostic writings add an intriguing overlay. The books selected are those that open up new ways of understanding the historical development of Christianity. Each in its own way has created a paradigm shift.


I wrote...

Searching for the Messiah: Unlocking the "Psalms of Solomon" and Humanity's Quest for a Savior

By Barrie Wilson,

Book cover of Searching for the Messiah: Unlocking the "Psalms of Solomon" and Humanity's Quest for a Savior

What is my book about?

An award-winning historian of religion examines the role a “messiah” plays in Western culture, from its pre-Christian roots to modern interpretations of a savior. Over the centuries, people have longed for a messiah, whether a religious figure such as Jesus, a political leader, or even in popular culture. The messianic quest emerges most acutely during difficult times when people experience a sense of powerlessness and desperation. But the concept of a messiah—a savior—has its root in the writings of ancient Judaism and early Christianity, evolving from an anointed leader to universal savior. Wilson turns to a little understood pre-Christian text, “The Psalms of Solomon,” which set the stage for messianic expectation just prior to the birth of Jesus.

The Social Life of DNA

By Alondra Nelson,

Book cover of The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation After the Genome

The book explores the impact of home DNA testing for ancestry in the Afro-American community. One of the best and focused essays on the social consequences of DNA technology, rich with telling examples. 

The Social Life of DNA

By Alondra Nelson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Social Life of DNA as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


A Favorite Book of 2016, Wall Street Journal
2017 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for Nonfiction (Finalist)
2017 Day of Common Learning Selection, Seattle Pacific University
2020 Diana Forsythe Prize (Honorable Mention)
2020 Best Books of the Year, Writers' Trust of Canada

The unexpected story of how genetic testing is affecting race in America
We know DNA is a master key that unlocks medical and forensic secrets, but its genealogical life is both revelatory and endlessly fascinating. Tracing genealogy is now the second-most popular hobby amongst Americans, as well as the second-most visited online category. This billion-dollar industry has spawned popular television…

Who am I?

Sergio Pistoi began his career as a molecular biologist before a radiation accident turned him into an evil science-writing superhero. He was an intern at Scientific American and a stringer for Reuters Health. His credits include Scientific American, New Scientist, Nature, and various Italian print and radio outlets and publishes multilingual videos on his YouTube channel Rockscience. He works as a  communication and science consultant for research for companies, research organizations, and EU projects. He is also the author of DNA Nation, a popular science book about the rise of DNA social networks and home genomics. He hides in Tuscany, Italy, with a fake identity. 


I wrote...

DNA Nation: How the Internet of Genes is Changing Your Life

By Sergio Pistoi,

Book cover of DNA Nation: How the Internet of Genes is Changing Your Life

What is my book about?

Millions of people have done it: with a few clicks and some spit, and at less than the cost of a fancy dinner, you can buy a reading of your DNA online. With this in hand, you can find out where you came from, trace relatives around the world and find new friends on a genetic social network. You can learn about your predisposition to disease, get a genetically tailored diet, understand the sports to which you or your children might be more suited, and even find a date. It’s the dawn of consumer genomics, where the progress of biology meets the power of the Internet and big data.

Sergio Pistoi, a journalist and a DNA scientist, investigated this brave new world first-hand by interrogating his own genes, and has provided a practical, informative, and thought-provoking survival guide to home genetic testing. From medicine to food, from social networking to genealogy and advertising, this book will show you how the DNA revolution is beginning to have such a profound impact on our daily lives and privacy and why it will influence the choices we make.

The Little White Horse

By Elizabeth Goudge,

Book cover of The Little White Horse

Okay, this is an old-fashioned book with some old-fashioned views, but it was my childhood favorite, so I had to include it! Orphaned Maria is sent to live with a distant relative at Moonacre Manor, but all is not as perfect as it seems, and it isn’t long before Maria discovers a world of hidden secrets and ancient feuds. It can’t have been easy growing up a feisty girl in Victorian England, but Maria Merryweather manages it, and I love that about her. She is stubborn, brave, and inquisitive, refusing to let anything dampen her spirit. As well as a passion for life Maria also has a passion for good food, (like me) so eat a snack while you read this because the descriptions will make you hungry!  A perfect balance of mystery, magic, and teatime treats.

The Little White Horse

By Elizabeth Goudge,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Little White Horse as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'The Little White Horse was my favourite childhood book. I absolutely adored it. It had a cracking plot. It was scary and romantic in parts and had a feisty heroine.' - JK Rowling - The Bookseller

Winner of the Carnegie Medal in 1946 and J.K. Rowling's favourite childhood book. This bestselling favourite fantasy classic is 'one of the most of the most magical stories in the world.' - The Independent. This is the story of a thirteen-year-old orphan, a Moon Princess, and a mysterious white horse.


Maria Merryweather, a plain London orphan, is sent to Moonacre Manor to live with…


Who am I?

I write books about feisty girls who follow their dreams and don’t let fear stand in their way. Growing up in London I was an extremely shy child with a full-blown fantasy life, but at eighteen decided it was time to channel my inner “feisty girl”, take charge of my destiny, and travel to America to pursue my dream of becoming a writer. Now, many years later I am the proud author of five middle-grade novels, and the mother of four amazing children who are all off following their own dreams. When I’m not writing books about feisty girls, I’m reading other people's. Here are some of my favorites.


I wrote...

The Courage of Cat Campbell (Poppy Pendle)

By Natasha Lowe,

Book cover of The Courage of Cat Campbell (Poppy Pendle)

What is my book about?

The one thing Cat Campbell wants more than anything is the one thing she can’t have – magic. That is until the day Cat discovers she has indeed inherited her mother’s magic gene. But as a ‘late bloomer’ witch Cat’s magic is difficult to control and not only does she have to battle with spells going wrong, she also has to face the disapproval of her mother, who gave up magic long ago and wants nothing to do with it. When the town of Potts Bottom is turned upside down after the notorious witch Madeline Reynolds escapes from prison, Cat grabs at the chance to prove herself, her magic, and to help her family and town by setting off on the riskiest adventure of her life.

Inside, I Am Surviving

By Ellen Middleton,

Book cover of Inside, I Am Surviving

This book written by Ellen Middleton is based on a true story of a little girl who grows up in adulthood to face motherhood, grief, rape, sexuality issues, and mental health.

It gives you this sense of right and wrong. She has a good sense of humour at the same time.

She finds the ability to love no matter what pain endured at the hands of others. Being let down by those who are supposed to love and care for you is heartbreaking.

Inside, I Am Surviving

By Ellen Middleton,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Inside, I Am Surviving as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Who am I?

Jamilla Counts born in Chicago during 1973 and raised in Memphis, Tennessee where she currently resides now. Graduated from Pulaski Technical college in Arkansas. Moving on to the University of Arkansas at Little Rock presuing a Bachelor's Degree in Social work. I'm featured in a book released by Tiffany Ludwig in the Rutgers University Press; Fifth or Later Edition (November 30, 2007) called Trappings: Stories of Women, Power, and Clothing, I'm a single parent of two daughters and one grandchild.


I wrote...

A Counts Duty: Assembling the Pieces of Me

By Jamilla Counts, Madison Lawson (editor),

Book cover of A Counts Duty: Assembling the Pieces of Me

What is my book about?

Memories of Jamilla Counts' beloved mother haunted her until she decided to research her lineage in search of answers. Who was she? Why did the people in her life grow silent when she asked about her mother’s murder that happened at the age of six? Later in time it soon became evident that her story of hope and endurance was one that needed to be told. It took many years for the author to get to the place where her mother was laid to rest. "As a child," the author explains, “I never felt I got the proper opportunity to say goodbye.” Traveling to find the place where she lay was life-changing and became the basis for her new book.

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