"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.