1. Lloyd’s Steamboat Directory and Disasters on the Western Waters by James T. Lloyd (Land Yacht Press, $25). The steamboat’s invention in the late 18th century did more than inspire passages for Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi—it propelled settlers into the western frontier and opened up rich opportunities for merchants and manufacturers. Lloyd’s Steamboat Directory was originally published in 1856, during the height of steamboat travel. This edition contains a new introduction that offers a contemporary look at steamboat travel. You’ll find maps that mark towns and cities on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, and discover what early life on the river waters was like for your ancestors. Riverboats weren’t always a safe means of travel: Many boats exploded, caught fire or collided with other vessels. For each disaster, Lloyd’s lists those killed, wounded or missing—a big plus for genealogists.
2. Nothing Like It in the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad, 1863-1869 by Stephen E. Ambrose (Touchstone Books, $16). On May 10, 1869, the famous golden spike that joined the East with the West was driven into the ground at Promontory Summit, Utah. The transcontinental railroad’s completion gave our ancestors a quicker way to travel and settle out West. The late Ambrose tells the story of the laborers, investors, corporations and politicians who contributed to its construction. Whether your ancestors enjoyed the luxury of rail travel once the railroad was completed or were among the many thousands of Chinese and Irish immigrants, defeated Confederates and other workers who helped build it, this book will open your eyes to an interesting part of your family history. Even those with Native American heritage will find this book relevant because it discusses the encroachment of Native American land. Complete with maps and photographs, Nothing Like It in the World combines personal stories and interesting facts to create a unique portrayal of a remarkable feat.
3. Under the Sidewalks of New York: The Story of the Greatest Subway System in the World by Brian J. Cudahy (Fordham University Press, $19.95). Every time I ride the New York City subway, I’m amazed how such a massive underground transit system was built at the beginning of the 20th century. Today, the same New York City subway that opened in 1904 carries nearly 4 million passengers every day! The 231-mile track requires a fleet of 6,500 subway cars to meet daily timetables and employs a whopping 20,000 workers. Plus, it’s all underground—beneath a city where millions walk the sidewalks or ride in taxis, cars and buses. Under the Sidewalks of New York, filled with photographs and maps, follows the subway system from conception to creation. Chances are, your immigrant ancestors who settled in the Big Apple either rode the subway or helped build it, and this interesting history will give you a new outlook on your urban ancestors’ lives.
4. Gas Stations: Coast to Coast by Michael Karl Witzel (MBI Publishing, $29.95). Gosh, I miss full-service gasoline stations. Don’t you? On cold, windy days, you never had to leave your warm car. An attendant pumped the gas, checked the vital fluids under your hood and made sure you had enough air in your tires. Sunday afternoon drives and road trips were popular pastimes for families across the country. This book will take you on a drive down memory lane, as you relive the times when a trip to the filling station wasn’t a burden, but an enjoyable experience. Share this book with your mom and pop or grandma and grandpa when doing oral history interviews. Or use it to share your experiences with younger generations. Gas Stations is filled with tons of color photographs that will trigger your memories of Mobile’s Flying Red Horse, the man who wore the Texaco star and Flying A ethyl. (Say, whatever happened to ethyl gasoline?)
5. Atlas of American Migration by Stephen A. Flanders (Facts on File, $93.50). If you’ve ever wondered how your ancestors got from one place to another, this pricey-but-valuable book will tell you how. Atlas of American Migration explores US history through the immigration and migration of your ancestors. Illustrated with maps and demographic charts, this work covers migration before Columbus, colonization, westward migration, ethnic groups’ movement, the urban frontier and the emergence of suburbia. Follow the trail your ancestors traveled with maps that show the Oregon, Bozeman, Mormon and Santa Fe trails, as well as the Wilderness Road, the National Road and the Tennessee Path. You can also trace water routes along canals and rivers, and railroad lines across the country. No matter how your ancestors moved from one area to another, this atlas will show you how they got there.