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

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Review: The Map Thief

Blanding, Michael. The Map Thief: The Gripping Story of an Esteemed Rare-Map Dealer Who Made Millions Stealing Priceless Maps. New York: Gotham Books, 2014. ISBN 978-1-592-40818-7. Kindle $10.99; Cloth $27.50. 300p.

How did E. Forbes Smiley, an experienced and respected map dealer, become a criminal who stole and defaced numbers of important, historic maps owned by prestigious libraries and museums? How did he escape detection for years?  Investigative reporter Michael Blanding (and collector of subway maps) interviewed Smiley, as well as some of his clients, other map dealers, librarians, and law enforcement to find out. 

As the narrative unfolds, it is impossible not to be amazed at the duration and extent of Smiley's deceits to steal and sell maps to support his lifestyle and grandiose ambitions. Even with cameras and staff present, Smiley found ways to separate antique maps from bound books, fold them into tiny packages, and hide them in his briefcase or jacket. After his eventual arrest in 2005, he agreed to cooperate with the prosecution and admitted to stealing 97 maps worth over $2 million. In exchange, he was given a light sentence--E. Forbes Smiley was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison.

While the story of Smiley's offenses and prosecution is interesting on its own, Blanding takes his investigation further by reporting how those affected by Smiley's thefts responded once his crimes were revealed. In-depth reviews of collections and security practices by affected institutions led to provocative conclusions. Instead of 97 missing maps,  more than 200 (listed in the appendix) were found to be stolen. And, budget constraints often limited the types and number of security measures an institution could implement.

Librarians and archivists make up a logical audience for Blanding's book and I highly recommend this book to them. For genealogists, The Map Thief provides insights into why and how libraries must balance security needs with access. Find this title at your local library, bookseller, or online merchant. 

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.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Review: The Underground Railroad on Long Island: Friends in Freedom

Velsor, Kathleen G. The Underground Railroad on Long Island: Friends in Freedom. History Press, 2013. 144 pp. ISBN 978160497705. $19.99 paper, $9.99 Nook & Kindle.

Kathleen G. Velsor's purpose for writing this history book is to describe the existence of an active Underground Railroad on Long Island and how it evolved and was shaped by Quakers. She also continues the research she did for an earlier work, Angels of Deliverance: the Underground Railroad in Queens and Long Island. She begins by providing historical overviews of colonial Long Island, slavery, and growth of the Society of Friends. Chapters follow about Elias Hicks and his anti-slavery ministry among Quakers; the generations of families committed to abolition; and the Underground Railroad passage from North Carolina to Long Island.

Velsor demonstrates extensive Quaker participation in the nation's growing antislavery movements, as well as their leadership in Underground Railroad activity on Long Island by pulling together varied documents, personal narratives, newspaper notices, and letters. Underground Railroad participation, in particular, can be difficult to research since those involved often took great pains to avoid discovery and left few contemporaneous records. Although her narrative is compelling, it is not always clear how she reaches conclusions. More detail about this process would be welcome.

Her work suffers from occasional careless editing and fact-checking. In one chapter, she references the first census of Maryland (taken in 1790) for the death of a man in 1814. She refers to Liberia as an island. In some instances, endnotes don't match the text they reference and bibliographical entries are incomplete.

Although this book is not a genealogical study, family historians will enjoy Velsor's book since it provides social and historical background for 18th and 19th century Long Island. Her descriptions of marriages and relationships among key Quaker families (such as Hicks, Mott, Jackson, and Post) are useful starting points for genealogical research.

Libraries and individuals with strong interests in Long Island history should consider purchasing in order to broaden their existing collections. It's also widely available at libraries throughout the US. The review copy was purchased from an online vendor.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Review: Sustainable Genealogy: Separating Fact From Fiction in Family Legends

Hite, Richard. Sustainable Genealogy: Separating Fact From Fiction in Family Legends. Genealogical Publishing Co., 2013. 110 pp. ISBN 978-0-8063-1982-7. Paper, $18.95.

Many family historians and professional genealogists first learn about their own families through the stories told by parents and grandparents. Over time and distance, facts are lost and stories take on lives of their own.  Most of us then face a sort of baptism of fiery disbelief as we struggle to learn the truths behind the stories and eventually separate fact from fiction. The same things happened to Richard Hite.

Using his own experiences, Hite sympathetically discusses common errors in family stories and how they possibly evolved as stories were shared and re-shared. He then demonstrates the best research practices to uncover what really happened.  Individual chapters cover some of the more common things that may need verification, like surnames' ethnic origins, relationships and connections to royalty and famous people, and descent from Native Americans. The myths are familiar ones. Hite adds much value to his book by showing how to apply various research tools (such as DNA tests, timelines, and cluster genealogy) to answer questions.

All new--and many experienced--genealogists will benefit from spending some time with Sustainable Genealogy. It is a well-written, thoughtful discussion of how to avoid common pitfalls when presented with undocumented traditions and legends. The sources and techniques he recommends will point you in the right direction and optimize your research results. In his enthusiastic foreword to the book, Henry Z. Jones, Jr., FASG, heartily agrees.

The book is recommended for purchase by avid genealogists and libraries with genealogy collections. It is available through the publisher's website and at various libraries. At this time, an e-Book edition was not found.