I don't want the title to appear as if I can answer all, or even most, music-related questions, but there is one I get frequently that I really don't know how to answer: "Where do you find those songs?" I present programs of historical significance, introducing audiences to the music their ancestors played and sang, so often people want to know where I dug up the material (no, I don't write these songs ... well, at least not most of them!). I have been collecting music since I was about 8 (my first music books, besides Mel Bay "How to play ukulele/banjo/mandolin," were a Christmas songbook my Dad gave me - it has so many notations in it that, even if it were a collector's item, it couldn't be resold! - and "Folk Sing!" a great book of folk songs that has long since lost its original cover and is actually in many pieces ... but I still use it).
Anyway, I thought I'd give folks some ideas of books that might provide ideas of the songs your ancestors sang. Some of these have music notations but some are just words and chords (for those of us who are somewhat musically-challenged).
The Burl Ives Song Book
This is a collection of American (and some British) songs throughout history. Songs range from children's songs to political pieces from all eras of the country. Short introductions tell a little history of the songs.
Folksinger's Wordbook Compiled by Fred & Irwin Silber (out of print)
While there is no music notation in this, the huge collection of songs from all over the world is cataloged into sections ranging from love to murder, war to holidays.
Folk Songs of North America by Alan Lomax
This was my text book in my Cal. State Fullerton class on Ballads and North American Folk Songs (fabulous course). It is also the book I use to help me write virtually every program I create. Again, songs are arranged in historical categories and all include a commentary about the origin and events surrounding their creation. If you get just one book about historical songs, this should be it. Search the web for the best price (the range goes from affordable to collectible).
Pioneer Songs compiled by the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers
This is a tough one to find at an affordable price, but worth the effort to locate. Contrary to the immediate impression, it is not a compilation of only Mormon Pioneer Songs, though many of those songs are included; this includes songs that were sung by the early Utah (and other state's) families. Some songs have been altered to fit LDS ideals, but it is a great expose of the music those early pioneers sang.
Songs of the American West edited by Richard E. Lingenfelter & Richard A. Dwyer
This is another "no longer in print" book that is worth the search. Historical commentary explains the details about the songs of those who "won the west." It has a huge section on Mormon pioneer songs (not all complimentary) and other regional/ethnic and occupational sections. A good addition to one's historic music library.
Rise Up Singing edited by Peter Blood-Patterson, a Sing Out publication
This is the book that is referred to as "the hymn book" or "the bible" by parlor musicians in song circles all across America. Note-dependent musicians are frustrated by the fact that there is no music notation, but "folkies" are content with the unique chord notation that is included. Songs of world-wide interest, including contemporary as well as traditional pieces, show tunes as well as children's favorites, make this a great addition to a family's music collection. I promise, whoever gets this book will find at least a half dozen songs he/she already knows.
Songs of the Civil War compiled & edited by Irwin Silber
For those who are interested in music of this historical event, this is the most comprehensive collection of such songs, both from the North and the South. There is also historical commentary in each section, telling the history of the battles as well as the music. Songs sung on the battlefields as well as in the homefront are included.
So there is a lengthy response to "where do you find these songs?" While not all these books are readily available, they can be found through used book outlets. And if you are looking for a particular song, there is always the old favorite: Google. Search by putting a short phrase, in quotation marks, in the search section, just remember that there are alternate titles for songs and, through the Folk Process (more on that in a later blog), lyrics get changed, so you may need to try different options.