I am reminded of when I buy a furniture item from IKEA, the Swedish retailer with stores around the world. The assembly instructions always start out with a simple diagram of the tools you need to have before you start assembling the item. It is too bad that genealogy doesn't come with a set of instructions giving you a similar set of tools. Of course, genealogical tools are a lot harder to use and understand than a screwdriver and a hammer, but they are still just as necessary and useful.
The real issue is where to start and where to stop when talking about tools. For this reason, I think it is important to realize that no simple list will suffice. Another analogy is in order. Many years ago, I owned a Jaguar motor car. It was a very used car and the front steering bushings has disintegrated. We diagnosed the problem and set about replacing the bushings by removing the front idler arms. It doesn't really matter if you have no idea what I am talking about because the problem was that we could not separate the idler arms from the linkage to the wheels. If you care, here is a short explanation of the idler arm function.
The idler arm supports the end of the center link on the passengers side of the vehicle. The idler arm bolts to the vehicle's frame or subframe. Generally, an idler arm is attached between the opposite side of the center link from the Pitman arm and the vehicle's frame to hold the center link at the proper height. Idler arms are generally more vulnerable to wear than Pitman arms because of the pivot function built into them. If the idler arm is fitted with grease fittings, these should be lubricated with a grease gun at each oil change. See Wikipedia: Idler arm.One of my friends had volunteered to help me with the project. We spent most of two days trying to separate the ball joint (pivot function) at the end of the part. Finally, we gave up, leaving the car sitting in my driveway. The next day, we were talking to another friend about the experience and he said, "Oh, you need a ball joint fork. I have one I can lend to you." Neither of us had ever seen or used a "ball joint fork."
Once we had the proper tool, we separated the ball joint and had the repair done in under an hour. This was a good lesson to learn. If you want to do a certain type of job, you need the right tools. This is also extremely important to genealogical research. Of course, there are an abundance of generalized genealogical tools out there but often, finding a particular ancestor requires a specialized tool. In these cases the rule is as follows:
Search for and make sure you have the proper research tools before you search for the ancestor.
This lesson has been brought home to me time and time again, both in my genealogical research and in doing car and household repairs. I have also found that most, in fact almost all, "brick wall" situations can be resolved by discovering the right genealogical tools and using them in the way they were intended. The best way to learn about these tools is to take the time to read a few good books about genealogical research. It also helps to attend a few classes and spend some time talking to good researchers.
I might mention that I know some outstanding genealogical researchers and I have benefited from their experience over the years. I might also point out that nearly all of these researchers are entirely unknown outside of their family and a few friends. I have gotten to know these folks because I have spent so much time in the libraries. Unless you happened to be related or know them personally, you would never know about their level of expertise. Their names are not on journal articles and they don't show up listed as presenters at conferences, but these people know how to do research and they can show you the right tools. When you find someone like this, you are doubly blessed.
I might also mention the help I received from taking independent study classes from Brigham Young University for five years. Study and learning at this level was invaluable to understanding what genealogy was all about.
We all have to start somewhere and I thought I would leave you with another list of books. These are the ones that got me started in understanding how to do genealogical research.
Cerny, Johni, and Arlene H Eakle. Ancestry’s Guide to Research: Case Studies in American Genealogy, 1985.
Greenwood, Val D. The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy. Baltimore, Md.: Genealogical Pub. Co., 1990.
Herber, Mark D, and Society of Genealogists (Great Britain). Ancestral Trails: The Complete Guide to British Genealogy and Family History. Baltimore, Md.: Genealogical Pub. Co., Inc, 1998.
Mills, Elizabeth Shown. Professional Genealogy: A Manual for Researchers, Writers, Editors, Lecturers, and Librarians. Baltimore: Genealogical Pub. Co., 2001.
Ryskamp, George R. Finding Your Hispanic Roots. Baltimore: Genealogical Pub. Co., 1997.
Szucs, Loretto Dennis, and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking. The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy. Provo, UT: Ancestry, 2006.