Out on a Limb: It’s a Book!

By David A. Fryxell Premium

I have only my wife’s word for the details of what childbirth feels like — none too good, to hear her tell it — but I have to imagine it’s a lot like the process of giving “birth” to a book. Our daughter was born 19 years ago, so my recollections are dim (though my wife swears it’s like it was yesterday), but I do remember a lot of tension, moaning and screaming, and that my wife could have only ice chips to quench her thirst. Birthing a book, I can report from recent experience, feels pretty much the same, only with gallons of coffee in place of the ice chips.

The book in question is The Family Tree Guide Book (Betterway Books), newly published and arriving in bookstores about the time that you read this. Though Betterway Books authors have been integral to the success of Family Tree Magazine since our launch, this is the first time we’ve returned the favor and created a book from the magazine. You can get a sampling of the book’s scope — genealogy across the United States and Canada — in this issue’s cover story, in which we pick 100 of the most useful Web sites from the more than 1,300 in The Family Tree Guide Book.

The book was inspired by the regional guides to finding your roots that we’ve been featuring, as well as our occasional stories on genealogy and history in various cities. Of course, we had to greatly expand on those ideas to fill a whole book — the city guides, for example, grew to 38, spanning the continent from Boston to San Diego, Charleston to Vancouver. The book also serves as a directory and reference in ways far beyond what we could pack between the covers of a magazine: extensive listings of organizations, archives, books and other resources, periodicals, Family History Centers and Web sites, even maps of every state and province.

Pulling together such a book — it weighs in at a whopping 336 pages — was quite an undertaking. We enlisted the services of two dozen authors, including such genealogy-writing heavyweights as Emily Anne Croom, Sharon DeBartolo Carmack, James and Paula Warren and Maureen A. Taylor.

The real devil, though, was in the details. Since city directories are a useful but often-overlooked tool for genealogists, for example, we thought it would be good to list the city directories available from the Family History Library (FHL), city-by-city, for each state. Sounds simple enough, until one day you find yourself combing through the FHL catalog for, say, Cheyenne, Wyo. Similarly, we wanted to list complete contact information for vital records for each state and province. So does Nunavut, Canada’s newest governmental subdivision, even have a vital records registry yet? (It does, and we list it.)

But, much as I’m proud of our daughter — proud enough to forget the agony (my wife’s agony, that is) of bringing her into the world — I’m mighty proud of The Family Tree Guide Book. Run down to your favorite bookstore, click on an online bookseller, or order directly from <> and you’ll see why. In a few months, in fact, I’m sure I will have forgotten all the hard work and just take satisfaction from the result, as I use The Family Tree Guide Book on my own genealogical journeys.

Maybe not entirely, though, judging by my wife. Our daughter, after all, is an only child.

From the February 2003 issue of Family Tree Magazine.