"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, March 8, 2015

Book Review: Owning New Jersey.

Grabas, Joseph A. Owning New Jersey: Historic Tales of War, Property Disputes & the Pursuit of Happiness. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2014. ISBN 978-1-62619-620-9. Paper, $19.99; Kindle, $9.99. 190p.

If you've ever researched New Jersey land and property records, this new book by Joseph A. Grabas provides needed historical context to help you make sense of conflicting title claims, courtroom squabbles and missing records. Grabas, a professional title searcher and educator, is a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists, a house historian, and resides in New Jersey. 

This is not a how-to book. Introductory chapters discuss the evolution of land regulation and legislation that had lasting impacts on the state. Then, through a series of highly readable individual case studies, the author illustrates the legal complexities and scope of records to be found from colonial to contemporary times in New Jersey. In one chapter, he demonstrates how laws forbidding land ownership by African-Americans were cleverly circumvented using legal loopholes; in another chapter, he describes how a 2007 decision by the US Supreme Court was impacted by 17th century land titles in New Jersey and Delaware. 

Recommended for researchers, libraries and archives with more than passing interests in New Jersey land records. Currently, it's available in print and e-book formats from online booksellers. Signed copies may be purchased directly from the Grabas Institute.

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.