"Beyond the age of information is the age of choices." Charles Eames. Hartman, Carla and Eames Demetrios. 100 Quotes by Charles Eames, p. 40.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Review: Every Person Has a History

Vickers, Rebecca. Every Person Has a History. Chicago, Illinois: Heinemann Library, 2014. ISBN 978-1-4329-9584-3. Paperback, $8.99; library binding, $31.50; 64 pages.

These days, it seems as if everyone wants to know the details of other people's lives. As genealogists, we're usually digging into histories of long-gone ancestors. Vickers puts her own spin on this type of research by discussing how to uncover personal history about anyone--from a rock star to a military hero to great-grandpa.

In short chapters, she introduces beginning research techniques that middle- and high school students can use to obtain different types of records, such as military, obituary, and census, for people like Wilma Rudolph and Winston Churchill. She also touches on the nature of evidence, and how to evaluate and distinguish between primary and secondary sources. Attempts are made to guide students to libraries, websites, and government offices--in most cases, directions are not enough specific enough to be useful. The author's knowledge of the subject, the resources, and the methodology is evident. However, this is a 64-page book aimed at students who probably have minimal exposure to personal history research.  Given the many aspects of personal history research tackled by Vickers, a longer book is in order. In its current edition, I believe it's overly ambitious to expect most students to independently--or successfully--use this book.

Many colorful illustrations as well as a glossary, index, and sources for further research are included. The book is part of Heinemann's Everything Has a History series.

Recommended as supplementary material for libraries, schools and organizations that specialize in introducing young researchers to genealogy and family history.

A genealogy/family history book by a respected publisher is always worth reviewing.  Being able to borrow Every Person Has a Story for free from my local library made it irresistible. It was definitely worth reviewing, but I can't recommend it as introduction to family history for students. The book is available in both paperback and library reinforced binding formats.


Sunday, June 22, 2014

Review: Genealogy Offline: a Beginner's Guide to Family History Records That Are Not Online

Breland, Claudia C. Genealogy Offline: a Beginner's Guide to Family History Records That Are Not Online. 2013. 131 pp. ISBN 978-1490463889, paper, $12.95; Kindle eBook, $7.95.

Although the title clearly states this helpful book is designed for beginners, many experienced genealogists will also be delighted with Breland's guide to tracking down original records that are not online.

Why the emphasis on offline records? Breland is definitely not PC or Mac-phobic. As a librarian and teacher she knows the value of online research as well at its limitations. Her primary goal is to encourage all researchers to seek out original documents from archives and other institutions if/when online material is inadequate. While transcriptions, indexes, and abstracts of original documents may be found online, they are often incomplete or contain errors. As part of a thorough research, the conscientious genealogist always pursues the original record.

Each chapter in Genealogy Offline is devoted to a different U. S. record type, such as adoption, land, probate, and naturalization records. The author provides quick, highly readable descriptions of each record type, what you can learn from them, how to locate original documents, and even which online tools will facilitate your searches. Lots of examples explain her techniques, although accompanying photos are often unclear and hard to read. 

While newbie genealogists will certainly gain from using this book, more experienced genealogists will gain tips on how to track down the records from which derivative abstracts, indexes and transcriptions are created. In the near future, Breland also plans a sequel, Genealogy Offline 2, which promises to show us how to track down even more elusive records, such as photos, hospital records, and manuscripts.


For this review, I purchased a paperback copy. At the time of writing this post, the best way to read this book is to buy it since availability through public libraries is limited. With both Kindle and paperback formats for sale at amazon.com, I am sure you'll find this a worthwhile, inexpensive purchase.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Review: Crash Course in Family History, 5th ed.

Larsen, Paul. Crash Course in Family History. 5th ed. St. George, Utah: EasyFamilyHistory.com, 2014. 344 pp. ISBN 978-1-937900-05-2, hardback, $39.95; ISBN 978-1-937900-09-0, eBook, $33.95.

What genealogist wouldn't want a book that promises  you can "build your family tree and connect to your ancestors" in just three easy steps?  Paul Larsen does just that in his 5th edition of Crash Course in Family History.

As in earlier editions, the book is also intended as a resource to be dipped into as research questions arise. Family historians with zero or limited background in genealogical research are Larsen's target audience. The format is appealing (though a little busy at times) with plentiful use of colorful illustrations, sidebars, and website links.  Given its hefty size and weight, you might decide to pass on the hardback and opt for the eBook instead--especially during research trips.

In 3 easy sentences, here are Larsen's 3 easy steps. Step 1 is to identify your ancestors by talking to relatives, networking online, and looking for distant cousins. Step 2 teaches you to extend and expand your family tree with basic census, immigration, military and other records. And, step 3 shows you how to connect with your ancestors by tapping into histories, family photos, and background information on places they lived.

There is more to the book, however. If your interest in genealogy has religious or spiritual origins, the many quotes from Mormon and other leaders will no doubt be inspiring. The author is also an advocate for the belief that deceased ancestors can guide genealogists' research. If you find these assumptions jarring, you will still gain from the solid information presented about genealogical research techniques and sources.  


I purchased a hardback edition of Crash Course in Family History for this review, although an ebook is available. Prices shown are from the publisher; other online vendors may offer discounts. Older editions are readily available at public libraries.