Generation by Generation

A Modern Approach to the Basics of Genealogy


Author: Smith, Drew
Publication Date: 10-Feb-23
Pages: vi, 170


The question all beginners in genealogy research ask themselves is, “Where do I begin?”  “Should I join a commercial subscription service like” What if I don’t find what I’m looking for on the Internet?” “How do I organize the information I’m gathering along the way?” Fortunately, this guide answers all those questions and engages neophytes with a book that takes an entirely fresh approach to the subject.

Author Drew Smith has organized the chapters according to the actual process used in genealogical research: Start with yourself, then move on to living family and relatives, and then move backwards in time, generation by generation. Each chapter describes a time period and the kinds of records available for that era, allowing beginners to learn about new types of records just as they need them.

The guide is divided into two parts. Part I (“For All Generations–Preparing to Research”) discusses such things as relationships between family members, naming practices,  genealogy software, how to review existing research, and the basics of DNA testing. Part II (“Generation by Generation—Doing the Research”) begins with a discussion of the major genealogy websites, and then explains the most important record categories for all generations from the present day back to the colonial era. There are also chapters devoted to searching for the origins of American families in the records of Canada, Great Britain, Ireland, and non-English-speaking nations.

This book is written in a clear and charming style. It makes ample use of consecutive Internet screen shots to take the mystery out of online searching. And it is written by an expert genealogist and teacher who is equally conversant with  traditional search methods and the digital world. There is no other book like it.

About the author: Drew Smith is the genealogy librarian at the University of South Florida Libraries in Tampa. He is co-host of The Genealogy Guys Podcast and host of the Genealogy Connection podcast. Mr. Smith is a founder and administrator of The Genealogy Squad Facebook Group with over 53,000 members. He writes a regular productivity column for the Association of Professional Genealogists Quarterly.


On March 20, 2023, Margaret M. McMahon (Dr. Mac), who writes the blog A Week of, says, ” ‘Generation by Generation: A Modern Approach to the Basics of Genealogy’ is a concise way for new genealogists to benefit from Mr. Smith’s wisdom as well as enjoy his warm and approachable manner. . . Part I of the books lays a solid foundation of key knowledge and skills a reader needs to conduct successful genealogical research. In Part II, readers are guided while they actually research their own ancestors. . . This is a book to read and use. It is a way for a reader to bring Mr. Smith home and have him alongside while taking significant steps to research family history.” According to Dr. Mac, Generation by Generation introduces beginners to the main ideas, terminology, and pitfalls of genealogy thereby giving them a strong foundation for more detailed research .

The review by Marian B. Wood, author of the blog, Climbing My Family Tree is succinct and to the point: “Know any newcomers to genealogy? I encourage you to point them toward a new book designed specifically for people just starting their journey into family history. . . . At 170 pages, this large-format book is well-illustrated and highly readable, making the genealogy process accessible to newcomers.  In short, I highly recommend Generation by Generation.”

Thomas MacEntee, writing on his blog, “Genealogy Bargains” on March 8, remarks that, “Over the past year or two, I’ve been hoping for a guide that distilled what can be an overwhelming process into just the “basics.” My hopes have come true, and Generation by Generation is just what the genealogy sphere needs right now . . .” MacEntee views the book as an excellent resource for beginners, easy to understand, full of a librarian’s tips, fair and balanced in its treatment of online sources, and helpful to beginner’s looking for previously published works on their family. MacEntee concludes,  “Isn’t it great when you encounter an instructional guide or website, and you say to yourself: “This is EXACTLY what I needed!”? Or in my situation as an educator, you say “This is EXACTLY how I would have organized and written this book.”

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