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

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Review: Family Tree Pocket Reference

Haddad, Diane. Family Tree Pocket Reference. F + W Media, Inc. rev. ed., 2013. 205 pp. ISBN 978-1-4403-3484-9. Paper, $14.99.

This is an updated edition of the title by the same name published by the editors at Family Tree Magazine back in 2010. Characterized by minor, yet welcome, updates and format changes from the previous edition, the Pocket Reference remains a handy research guide for genealogists.

The content is compiled from articles appearing in the magazine in recent years so you will find the information accurate, reliable, and very useful. Chapters cover everything from general research skills to what to expect at libraries and archives to tips on using different record types. The chapter on census records does include a new section that conveniently lists each census with the questions asked for that year. Unfortunately, much of the information in other chapters is page-for-page the same as the 2010 edition. It was also slightly irritating that not all mentions of the footnote and newenglandancestors websites were corrected to reflect the new names of fold3 and americanancestors.

The somewhat larger format of the new edition is attractive and easy to read. With a large variety of reliable information and quick facts, it's especially helpful when you're traveling light through areas with sketchy internet access. I keep the newer edition in my research bag. It's recommended for public library collections and most genealogists who do not own the 2010 edition. If you have the 2010 edition, however, you might as well save your money.

For this review, I purchased the 2013 edition and compared it with the 2010 one I already have. Several online vendors sell the paperback with attractive discounts. A digital eBook is also available. Neither edition is widely available at public libraries.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Review: AARP Genealogy Online: Tech to Connect

Helm, April Leigh, and Matthew Helm. AARP Genealogy Online: Tech to Connect. John Wiley and Sons, Inc. For Dummies. 2012. 240 pp. ISBN 978-1-118-24405-0. Paper, $19.95; Kindle, $16.99.

Genealogists typically reach out to friends and family members to share their passion for family history. Savvy publishers recognize that seniors, in particular, may be passionate about sharing genealogy but lack technical expertise with online resources. AARP has partnered with the For Dummies line of publications to create its own Tech to Connect series.  The  announcement at PRWeb  stated, "Specifically targeting the 50+ consumer, these books offer advice and solutions for using technology to stay connected with friends, family and community...while helping to protect their online privacy and security."  

Any genealogy how-to book branded with both the AARP and For Dummies names should be welcomed by beginner genealogists and family historians. The authors aptly identify sound genealogical practices such as beginning research with yourself, organizing your findings, and online search strategies and prudent reminders to use traditional as well as online resources. Source citation was mentioned but not covered in detail.

Writing about how to do anything on the internet is like herding cats or nailing Jell-0 to a tree. Your carefully crafted instructions will likely have a very short lifespan given the pace of change and product upgrades rampant on the internet. Unfortunately, that is all too evident with this book. The first chapter is titled, "Writing Your Autobiography with arcalife." What was once a promising genealogy product, is now, apparently, defunct.

Another pitfall is providing step by step instructions for navigating viable websites like Ancestry.com. Upgrades, content growth, and new technology guarantee that accurate directions written months ago are already dated. Preparing readers for this inevitability would have helped.

Although I find little fault with the genealogy research strategies that are described, the problems described above are serious flaws and I cannot recommend this book. The authors' earlier Genealogy Online for Dummies titles would be a better choice (a new edition is scheduled for early 2014).  And, if you're in the market for an introductory book, you should take a peek at Kimberly Powell's short list at about.com.

If you're not deterred by my review and prefer to make your own opinion, you'll find this book readily available in paper and e-book formats, as well as at many (mostly) public libraries. (For the purposes of this review, I borrowed a copy from my local library, and I have pre-ordered the 7th edition of Genealogy Online for Dummies which I'm eager to review.)

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Review: Turn Your IPad into a Genealogy Powerhouse by Lisa Louise Cooke

Cooke, Lisa Louise. Turn Your iPad into a Genealogy Powerhouse (& other tablets too!). Genealogy Gems Publications. 2012. 152 pp. $19.95.

Through podcasts, presentations and books, Cooke continues to skillfully demonstrate that technology is a highly approachable tool we can readily incorporate into our genealogy research process. This book is no exception.
Most of the book is devoted to descriptions of apps for your mobile devices (smart phones and tablets) that meet a broad range of genealogical research needs. You will find apps to help you connect with other researchers, to organize your research, to scan documents in archives, and edit your photos. notetaking or traveling. While the emphasis is definitely on apps for Apple products, Cooke conveniently includes android apps and sources, too.  Each app is clearly described and may even include detailed how-to instructions for various features. In particular, I appreciated her tips about tracking down apps and websites when urls and names change.
Because everything related to the internet changes at lightning speed, this publication does run the risk of becoming outdated unless Cooke plans intermittent new editions.
Particularly recommended for genealogists new to the field or eager to expand their technology toolkits. Turn Your iPad into a Genealogy Powerhouse is available through several online vendors (which is how I purchased my copy) and a number of public libraries.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Review: How to Archive Family Keepsakes by Denise May Levenick

Levenick, Denise May. How to Archive Family Keepsakes: Learn How to Preserve Family Photos, Memorabilia & Genealogy Records. Family Tree Books. 2012. 208p. ISBN 978-1-4403-2223-5. $24.99.

For several years, I’ve subscribed to the Family Curator blog by Denise Levenick, read articles she’s written and even attended a presentation she did at Southern California Genealogy Jamboree in 2012. Her enthusiasm for preserving family papers, artifacts, and photos is contagious. Plus, she has the knowledge to tell us how to successfully do it.

This comes across in her recent book, How to Archive Family Keepsakes: Learn how to Preserve Family Photos, Memorabilia & Genealogy Records, as she explains how to plan, prepare, and implement a well-managed family archive. People who use this book to tackle their own collections will gain confidence to make decisions about the purpose, nature and scope of their own family archives. 

The book consists of three primary parts:

Part 1. “I Inherited Grandma’s stuff, Now What?” leads you through a soul-searching planning process to define goals, set parameters, identify storage solutions, and prepare for the future. This process helps you focus and shape your assorted collection(s) into a family archive. Overall, this is Levenick’s finest section since it emphasizes planning and thinking ahead.

Part 2. “Break the Paper Habit” delivers strategies for organizing and digitizing materials that can be preserved, shared with others, or accessed for writing and other creative projects. The sample workflows will get—and keep—your family archive organized, scanned, identified and accessible. Technical information, such as scanning specifications, is presented clearly.

Part 3.“Root Your Research in Strategies for Success” provides a handy toolkit of research methodologies, various software programs, citation options, and social media resources—all in the context of genealogical research and with lots of links to explore.

Anyone who is struggling to live with and manage collections of family papers, photos, and miscellany will appreciate this book and the advice it contains. Public libraries will find it a welcome addition to their family history and digital photography collections. My own copy of Levenick’s How to Archive Family Keepsakes is well-thumbed as I organize and digitize over 80 years of my parents' memorabilia.

How to Archive Family Keepsakes: Learn how to Preserve Family Photos, Memorabilia & Genealogy Records is available in several formats/editions at online vendors and public libraries. As a reviewer, my role is to evaluate a book in context of works by the author by searching for other editions and books. Surprisingly, I found that in addition to the expected eBook and paper formats, the three parts (listed above) of this book were extracted into individual books and sold separately under different titles.

“I Inherited Grandma’s stuff, Now What?” is sold as How to Organize Inherited Items at amazon.com ($7.99, Kindle) and at ShopFamilyTree.com ($9.99, pdf download)

The “Break the Paper Habit” section is sold as How to Organize Family History Paperwork at amazon.com ($7.99, Kindle) and at ShopFamilyTree.com ($9.99, pdf download)

“Root Your Research in Strategies for Success” is sold as Organization Strategies for Genealogy Success at amazon.com ($7.99, Kindle) and at ShopFamilyTree.com ($9.99, pdf download)

Just to be sure, I compared How to Organize Family History Paperwork with part 2 in How to Archive Family Keepsakes and found them to be identical. At the end of How to Organize Family History Paperwork there is also an explanatory statement that it had been extracted from How to Archive Family Keepsakes. I wish that statement had been included in the promotional blurbs I read.

My recommendation for How to Archive Family Keepsakes: Learn how to Preserve Family Photos, Memorabilia & Genealogy Record is it is outstanding and you will repeatedly refer to all three sections to answer questions. You cannot go wrong with this choice. If you’re absolutely only interested in one of the extracted titles, you will still (mostly) get your money’s worth.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Review: Genealogy at a Glance: Virginia Genealogy Research by Carol McGinnis.

McGinnis, Carol. Virginia Genealogy Research. Genealogy at a Glance series. Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2012. 4pp. ISBN 978-0-8063-1896-7. $8.95.

It must be impossible to read any blog, attend a meeting, or visit your favorite genealogy bookseller without stumbling across one of the recent spate of laminated, 4-page pamphlets designed to fill you in on any number of genealogical research subjects. While they're not comprehensive, they will jumpstart your research and point you in the right direction.

And, frankly, I find them quite appealing with their spillproof formats and implied promises of instant information gratification. Some are simple lists of sources and websites. The better ones are written by experts who provide relevant background (such as history and timelines), discuss what you can expect from the recommended resources, and give you location or access details.

Carol McGinnis' Virginia Genealogy Research is definitely one of the better ones. She provides a concise introduction to Virginia's origins and history then demonstrates how events affected the types and amount of records available. Despite its brief length, McGinnis succeeds in packing key information, especially about Virginia's stellar online collections, into her publication, If you're new to Virginia research, you will get a solid introduction about reliable sources you should check first. For more experienced researchers, you will recognize some old friends, be reminded of others, and surprised that some of them have moved off library shelves to websites. Here's a list of records and resources she covers:
  • Overview of Virginia's beginnings and settlers
  • Descriptions of vital, land, military, probate, census, and church records
  • Significant published indexes and journals
  • Major repositories
  • Free online resources
A lot of useful, current information is packed into these 4 pages. In addition to treating the above topics, McGinnis includes tips and pointers to helpful sources for further research. It's important to note that her focus is mostly on state-level resources. When you're ready to dig deep into resources held by individual counties, you can't go wrong with another title by McGinnis--her outstanding Virginia Genealogy: Sources & Resources (1993).

Genealogical.com  claims each publication in its Genealogy at a Glance series is "a four-page distillation of the key ingredients in a given area of genealogical research." With Virginia Genealogy Research, both the author and the publisher have met this goal. The title is available from the publisher and Amazon. A few libraries across the U.S own this title so don't forget to check the one near you.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Review: An Uncommon Soldier edited by Lauren Cook Burgess

Burgess, Lauren Cook, ed. An Uncommon Soldier:  The Civil War Letters of Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, alias Private Lyons Wakeman, 153rd Regiment, New York State Volunteers. The Minerva Center. 1994. Bibliography. Index. 110p. ISBN 0-9634895-1-8.
Although not allowed to serve, women did sometimes disguise themselves as men and enlist in Confederate and Union military units. Since their continued service depended on secrecy, information about women soldiers serving in the Civil War is very hard to find and verify. Those who were discovered were discharged, often leaving in disgrace.
Burgess has successfully documented well over 150 women soldiers who saw military service during the Civil War. In An Uncommon Soldier, she applies her skill and knowledge gained by that research to bring to life the experiences of one woman, Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, whose letters home were preserved and passed down through the years by family members.
Sarah Rosetta Wakeman (1843-1864) was the first of nine children born to Harvey and Emily (Hale) Wakeman. She apparently left her home in Afton, New York in 1862, disguising herself as a man in order to work on the  Chenango Canal. She then enlisted in the 153rd Regiment, New York State Volunteers in 1862 as Pvt. Lyons Wakeman.
In her letters home, Wakeman often expresses her love for family and pride in her military service. She is also well aware how Army life has changed her. Writing home just before Christmas 1863, she explains, "I have enjoyed my self the best since I have been gone away from home than I ever did before in my life. I have had plenty of money to spend and a good time asoldier[ing]. I find just as good friends among Strangers as I do at home." At other times, Wakeman writes about farming techniques, day-to day camp activities (her descriptions with these topics are particularly appealing), and her belief she will survive the war. Sadly, she died from diarrhea contracted during the Red River campaign and was buried at Chalmette National Cemetery. 
Pvt. Wakeman's letters were carefully edited by Burgess to retain the writer's voice while adding punctuation and standardizing spelling for the convenience of modern readers. The many explanatory notes are very welcome additions and help clarify events and identify people mentioned by Wakeman. If you're interested in reading the unedited letters, however, photocopies are available at the Library of Congress.
Recommended for students, Civil War buffs, and genealogists with specific interests in the Wakeman family and the 153rd Regiment, New York State Volunteers. The book is widely available at many libraries in the U.S. as well as at several online vendors. Cloth and paper editions are for sale at amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com, beginning at about $10. Amazon also sells the Kindle edition for $9.99 while Lulu.com sells the eBook (pdf) edition for the same price.