I have a book at home that was published by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints some time in the 1940s. It was written as a guide to help people fill in their ancestry forms correctly when they were submitting them to the church. It is a very thorough and helpful tome, despite its age. I am wondering what the earliest publication of a genealogy "How To" book might be. Was it published in English or some other language?

This question is relevant because: I am completing a thesis that focuses upon genealogists and how they find new resources and learn new skills. Since there seem to be a million books out nowadays that show you how to do genealogy, it's difficult to weed out the current from the first. Can anyone help?

Note: I know that periodicals were being published by genealogical societies. This might apply... I'm searching for the first "How To" guide. Thx.

  • I remember reading about a guide put out by the LDS... sometime between 1900 and 1910 IIRC. Commented Nov 27, 2012 at 18:23

5 Answers 5


The German historian Johann Christoph Gatterer (1727 - 1799) wrote the first handbook for genealogy. "Abriss der Genealogie" was published in 1788 by Vandenhoeck und Ruprechts Verlag in Göttingen.

The idea that genealogy should be based on sources is even older; this notion was first forwarded by the Frenchman André Duchesne (1584 - 1640).

  • 2
    Can you support your assertion that "Abriss der Genealogie" was the first handbook with a citation?
    – Sue Adams
    Commented Nov 29, 2012 at 17:50
  • 1
    According to the 1902 (10th edition) of Encyclopedia Britannica, Abriss der Genealogie is "the first and still a useful manual upon the theory of genealogy." Commented Dec 1, 2012 at 20:50

I have a copy of a little book called "Foundations of Genealogy with Suggestions on the Art of Preparing Records of Ancestry" by William Stowell Mills, 1899, Monograph Publishing Company, New York. It could easily be a current how-to book, except for the flowery language and the absence of any mention of the LDS and the Internet.

Edit: It's online at http://openlibrary.org/books/OL14517412M/Foundations_of_genealogy


As always, we need to define the context of the question. From the additional material you provide, I assume that the search should be restricted to western genealogy (excluding rules for defining pharoahic succession and chinese dynasties) and presumably christian.

Since you refer to an LDS publication as your current benchmark, I will restrict further to the english language and north american publication. You then need to decide whether to admit books and/or serial publications.

Both of these items are available in Google Books.

The Handbook of American Genealogy
Frederick Adams Virkus
Institute of American Genealogy, 1932 - 380 pages

National Genealogical Society Quarterly, Volume 1, Issue 4
National Genealogical Society
National Genealogical Society, 1913


I wonder if the Society of Genealogists might be a fruitful avenue to explore. There's an article here which talks about the founding of the society in 1911 and mentions some pocket guides by Charles Bernau.


The New England Historic Genealogical Society was founded in 1845 and it's about page implies John Farmer (1789-1838) was one of the first Americans to do genealogy systematically. I would speculate they have books in their library from the 1700s and early 1800s showing the evolution from family Bibles and needlepoint to 'genealogy' in a form similar to what we know it today. They make some interesting observations on why genealogy was important to the early Americans.

This presumes the interest is in the history of American genealogy. As others have mentioned, genealogy has been practiced around the world and dynastic and religious genealogy is much older.

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