Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Book Review: Crash Course in Family History by Paul Larsen

Paul Larsen recently published the Third Edition of his book, Crash Course in Family History. It is a 240-page, step-by-step illustrated guidebook and comprehensive resource book. The book has a hard cover with a comb binding, in large 8.5 x 11 format, which allows the pages to lie flat for easy use on a desktop.

The Table of Contents of this book is here in PDF format:

The first page of the Introduction section, in terms of the format and appearance, is typical of the entire book:

The book uses font sizes, columns, text boxes, headers, photographs, cartoons, tables, and color very effectively. My first impression when I opened the book was "wow, this books invites me to read it - it is very attractive."

I received this book gratis from the author, Paul Larsen, at the SCGS Genealogy Jamboree. Paul was selling his book at his exhibit for http://www.easyfamilyhistory.com/. I agreed to review it for Paul, and to donate the book to my local society's library collection.

The heart of the book is the 3-Easy Steps in Chapters 2 to 4:

Step 1. Identify Your Ancestors Using Your Family
-- which includes sections on finding home information, creating pedigree and family group charts, documenting your search, citing your sources, organizing your records, evaluating evidence, and providing 20 tips to help you get started.

Step 2. Add New Branches to Your Family Tree Using the Internet
-- which includes sections to see if someone else has already found information on your ancestors, searching online records for missing information, and additional ways to do online research. Included in this chapter are summaries of record availability on the Internet - descriptions of web sites listed by subject (e.g., family trees, published books, search engines, research guides, census records, military records, immigration, court, land and financial records, libraries and archives, African-American, Hispanic, Native-American, social networks, mailing lists, family associations, etc.). There are several excellent tables -- one lists census records for the US, Canada and the UK by year and database provider; another lists military records availability by time period and database provider.

Step 3. Connect With the Lives of Your Ancestors
-- which includes sections on timelines, history, photographs, videos, scrapbooking, newspapers, periodicals, maps, charts, geography, grave sites, obituaries, vital records, court, land, financial, health history, royalty and nobility, etc. In each section, websites are described to help with the specific research.

Succeeding chapters cover Family History Software and Tools, the Best of the Internet (a fairly predictable list), other valuable databases, The Best LDS Web Sites, Organizing and Archiving your Information, Leaving an Enduring Legacy, and Other Rewarding Opportunities (Sharing information, creating websites, online photo albums, etc.). A glossary of terms and an index are available.

I especially appreciated the description of LDS beliefs and practices, since I am not a Mormon and have not seen it explained well before. I also appreciated the description of new FamilySearch in more detail than I've seen before.

There is some duplication of website descriptions in the different chapters, but that is understandable because of the different focus of the chapters. Each chapter is introduced with inspirational thoughts, or insights, by famous people or LDS church leaders.

I was surprised that there was not more emphasis on finding family records in traditional sources - at vital records offices, in town halls and courthouses, on shelves at libraries and archives, in periodicals and books, at genealogical and historical societies, etc.

I was also surprised that two of the large family tree databases at Ancestry.com (One World Tree and Ancestry Member Trees) were not mentioned. I realize that a book of this sort cannot mention every possible database, but the largest ones should be listed, in my humble opinion.

Using the LDS Family History Library and Catalog is described on one page, but the availability of many records in book or manuscript format, and on microform, at the FHL in Salt Lake City are mentioned only in passing. Visiting a Family History Center is summarized on one page, mentioning access to online databases, access to microform resources (but no mention of the rental cost), and the ongoing FamilySearch Indexing activity.

The emphasis of this book is on using Internet resources to find genealogy and family history information and solve research problems. As such, it will be very useful to the Beginning Computer Genealogist and as a teaching aid for Family History Consultants at the FHL and FHCs. A Beginning Genealogist will find this book useful as part of a collection of general genealogy books. The book is jam-packed with useful lists of websites and databases by subject, and is very easy to read and to use.

Paul Larsen, Crash Course in Family History, Third Edition, Fresh Mountain Air Publishing Company, St. George, Utah, 2009, 240 pages, hard cover, comb binding, $34.95. The book is available for purchase here through the EasyFamilyHistory website.

1 comment:

Elyse said...

I personally wouldn't of used One World Tree as a source listed only because there are so many mistakes in this tree. Then again, I am a bit bitter with this database because when I first started my genealogy, I turned to this tree and took everything I thought everything I found in the database was truthful (my fault for being so gullible). It was misleading to me.

Great review, Randy!