The Journal of San Diego History
Fall 1984, Volume 30, Number 4
Thomas L. Scarf, Managing Editor

Book Reviews

Raymond Starr, Book Review Editor

The Source: a guidebook of American Genealogy. Edited by Arlene Eakle and Johni Cerny. Salt Lake City, Utah: Ancestry Publishing Company, 1984. Foreword. Introduction. Illustrations. Appendices. 786pages. $39.95.

Reviewed by Rickey Best, Assistant Librarian, San Diego Historical Society.

This is one of the more useful manuals on genealogical research to have been published in some time. Designed as a comprehensive reference work, The Source claims that “it identifies, locates, and interprets all of the basic manuscript, microfilmed, and published record groups available for genealogical research”. If the book does not succeed in this claim, it comes close.

The Source is a well written and well edited reference tool which makes an effort to determine what types of records exist for genealogical research from colonial times through 1910. Each chapter evaluates the records germane to its topic, and offers useful tips to help researchers get the most information possible from their research. Each chapter includes a well selected bibliography for those who want more information about researching a record group or subject area.

Areas of discussion include vital statistics and census records, church, land and tax, court, business and employment, and institutional records. One chapter offers useful suggestions about what to research for information on urban ancestors. The chapters provide excellent demonstrations on how records can open up further fields of research. In Arlene Eakle’s chapter on court records, for instance, she uses information found in court dockets to trace the migrations of the defendant through the states of Tennessee, Texas, Louisiana, and Kentucky.

Advice is also provided to assist in the search for information about minority groups. Chapters dealing with Blacks, Asian-Americans, Jewish-Americans, Indians, and families from the Spanish Mexican Southwest provide valuable clues to those beginning their research. The chapters on blacks and native Americans, however, suffer certain limitations inasmuch as documentation on blacks prior to the 1860s is sometimes difficult to come by. In tracing black history, the discussion centers around federal military records, and the records of the Freedman’s Bureau. Records of the “Underground Railroad” are also mentioned for potential research value.

Records of Native Americans are similarly dependent upon federal government materials. Church records may also provide genealogical information on Indian families. During the late 1860s and early 1870s, church missionaries in certain areas were given the responsibility of educating and morally uplifting the Indians. Mission schools were established and Indian children were encouraged to attend. Records from these schools may also help in tracing family histories.

Most of the chapters dealing with minority groups offer excellent advice for research. The chapter on the Spanish and Mexican Southwest, however, fails to do so. Given the exhaustive analysis provided in other chapters, the superficial summary given here is surprising and makes this the weakest part of the book. The chapter covers records in the states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. An analysis of the records available in any of these states would cover more text than the roughly eighteen pages devoted to them here. The chapter is poorly organized, with a list of repositories and a bibliography included. Lists of finding aids and guides are scattered throughout the chapter, yet are not mentioned in the bibliography. Of the six items mentioned on page 561, only three may be found in the chapter’s bibliography. In the list of repositories provided, many addresses are not given. Also, the majority of the repositories for New Mexico are found listed under Nevada. Proof-reading would have benefited this chapter greatly.

In spite of some minor flaws, The Source is of tremendous value, not only to genealogical and historical researchers, but to those of us who provide reference services for them. It is highly recommended for librarians, archivists, and researchers.