Friday, August 21, 2009
Countdown to Salt Lake Expo, Review of CRASH COURSE IN FAMILY HISTORY, booth 321
My experience of reviewing Crash Course in Family History, 3rd ed. was both enjoyable and educational (I have a number of websites that I now want to investigate that I either did not know existed or did not realize contained as much as they do). Thank you, Paul Larsen, for this experience.
It is clear from the cover of the book that this text deals largely with the use of technology in doing one’s genealogy. This, of course, is pertinent to today’s society, but includes a built-in obsolescence problem: some of the data may already be out of date (with website changes and removals, plus the additions of others that might be preferable for the various elements discussed). Mr. Larsen has thought ahead about this issue, however, and is developing a companion website where one can get the most updated information. Also, his production runs of the book are small enough to allow him to update each time a new printing is prepared.
I think it would have been helpful to add a little more about non-Internet options (Family History Centers and their parent, the Salt Lake Family History Library, are given good coverage). A section on genealogical and historical societies, as well as public libraries, would have been a nice touch. The genealogical societies are having something of an identity crisis with the influx of so much web-based research, yet they definitely have their place in the genealogy community and some mention of them (and, perhaps, the website “Society Hill” so people can find them across the country) would perhaps help keep them afloat. Historical societies and local public libraries, and their role in helping people learn about their ancestors’ home towns, are also shortchanged here.
I was impressed with the basic explanation of LDS beliefs and temple ordinance information to help clarify the reasons for the strong Mormon influence in this field. It was neither too preachy nor too simplified. The explanation of the New FamilySearch program was as comprehensive as possible, for this particular moment in time. However, I think listing the nFS Certified affiliates was not necessary and may even be discovered to be problematic since the list is subject to frequent revisions (the updated list can be found on the Internet and will probably be handled in Mr. Larsen’s website updates as well).
Information about using the computer in doing genealogical research is very helpful, especially the section on photos and file types (one of the best explanations I’ve seen). I would have preferred to have seen the clip art of a scanner to have been one of a flat-bed instead of a single-sheet feed. While the differences are explained, someone, unfamiliar with the various types, looking at the photos and then moving on might not understand that there are many brands of scanners that take books and even objects, making them a useful tool in library research.
I really liked the organization of the different chapters with one exception: material from chapter 4 (on the purpose of doing family history) would have been, in my opinion, better placed in the first chapter (or as a preface?). The reason: not everyone is convinced that doing family history is a valuable use of time; the purpose of this activity is very clearly and effectively described in chapter 4 and may inspire a person to continue reading to learn the “how,” once they understand the “why.” Perhaps Mr. Larsen’s personal experience and revelation about writing the book would be better placed at the end as an “afterword” (while I found it moving and fascinating, the person looking first for information for his/her own use might not be so inspired by Mr. Larsen’s experience). That said, I need to add that the rest of the chapter organization flowed well, in my opinion. And the final two chapters are placed perfectly.
Discovering the “best of the best” websites had to be a hard task and the research that went into this quest is impressive, to say the least. Identifying websites that require the user to pay a fee was also much appreciated. Because websites are so frequently changed, I would have liked to have seen this book organized so that pages could be removed and updates slipped in (though the link on EasyFamilyHistory will be set up so that the most recent information is available, the reader will need to hand revise or print something to paste on an existing page). Mr. Larsen’s planned blog will be a “must” for the purchasers of this book as I am relatively certain he will include information on website updates via his blog. I am looking forward to being a regular reader of this upcoming blog. (Of course, this is going to mean more work for Mr. Larsen, causing him to have to monitor the changes, though I sort of suspect he is doing that anyway). This makes his book a “living entity” that will be able to grow (or, heaven forbid, shrink) with the industry.
Initially I was troubled by the ethnocentric approach to much of the research described: this is very much a book for use by Americans in America. Of course, the fact that it is written in English might lead people to assume that, but I thought it would not get the mileage it deserves in, say, the United Kingdom, simply because of the wording, particularly in the section “Honoring Your Ancestors.” However, Mr. Larsen informed me that there are already plans to have the text modified for users in other countries so even those whose ancestors did not immigrate to America will find a user-friendly version sometime in the future.
It is clear that this text was written with LDS researchers in mind and, (no offense to my fellow Mormon genealogists) because this particular group often forgets the scholarship necessary to accompany the research, it is a much-needed resource for this audience. Chapter 2’s discussion of source citation is an excellent element of this text and responds to that deficiency in that particular population. But this book also fulfills a need in the general genealogy community: a comprehensive list of areas to check in order to claim that “reasonably exhaustive search” that we are encouraged to conduct.
For anyone considering family history as a pastime, an avocation or vocation, and/or a sacred duty, this book is a good place to start. The sometimes amusing, sometimes heart-wrenching, sometimes motivating examples of the experiences of other genealogists, amateur and professional alike, make this text one that touches the hearts and minds of the reader. If one can read this book and then elect not to investigate his/her own ancestors, I would be amazed. Thank you, Mr. Larsen, for filling a hole in the genealogy bookshelf.