Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Back to (Genealogy) School

     It isn’t only the kids who are headed back to school.  Those of us who have been involved in researching our family history for a long time (33 years, in my case) can also benefit from hitting the books.
     Over the last couple of months, I’ve plunged into a reading list that’s recharged my interest in genealogy, and given me many tools to do a better job.  I’ll review the process here.  (The books are widely available from a variety of sources, genealogy book vendors, non-profit used book dealers, Amazon, and the like.)
     First up:  Hey America, Your Roots Are Showing, by well-known researcher and author Megan Smolenyak.  Not a “how-to” book, but more of a “greatest hits” collection, from among her past research cases.  She tells about a fascinating variety of subjects and approaches, in a brisk and breezy style that’s not too demanding.  Probably my favorite chapter was about the identity of the “real” Annie Moore, first down the gangplank at Ellis Island.  The book is a great way to get excited about family history research.
     Next, it was on to Family Trees: A History of Genealogy in America, by François Weil.  I had the pleasure of hearing him address the summer meeting of the New England Historic Genealogical Society in Boston this year.  The book describes the shifting landscape of the who, the how, and the why of family history research in America, from colonial times up to the present.  It certainly provides food for thought; we may need to take another look at some of the “family tree” books we’ve all used as reference material!
     Now, you’d think that my 33 years of experience might give me some kind of advantage, when it comes to “knowing it all.”  Hah!  The next book gave me some queasy feelings about what I missed, or did poorly, along the way.  The Family Tree Problem Solver, by the late Marsha Hoffman Rising, gives an excellent course that would benefit genealogists at all levels of expertise.  Every concept is illustrated by actual examples from her research.  Those “brick walls?”  Using this process may provide some hope, after all.
     Then it was on to Mastering Genealogical Proof, by Thomas W. Jones.   You’ve got to love a guy who’s become a respected expert in the field, even though I assume he had to work with the surname Jones!  This book covers the Genealogical Proof Standard:  what it is, and how to apply it.  I experienced a feeling of dread when, on page two, he describes the book as being similar to a mathematics textbook.  But I became engaged in the experience of reading it.  Each chapter presents a concept, illustrates it, and asks the reader to answer test questions.  If you’re thinking, “What’s a proof standard?” or if the start of your genealogy career began before it was established, or if you have only a hazy notion that it involves “a reasonably exhaustive search,” and “source citations,” there is much to be learned from this book.
     On the horizon are two more offerings, sitting on my desk.  The first is Locating Your Roots:  Discover Your Ancestors Using Land Records, by Patricia Law Hatcher.  This is considered  the go-to book on the subject, and I look forward to getting a better handle on this topic.  Finally, I’ll read  the latest from “The Genealogy Guys,” of podcasting fame, George G. Morgan and Drew Smith:  Advanced Genealogy Research Techniques.  This one assumes you’ve at least started your research, but would be useful at all skill levels.  The language used is an easy read.  The book updates traditional “how-to” directions for the 21st century, to include tools such as social media and DNA testing.
     While I’m always tempted by the lure of new research, I know I’ll benefit more from taking a spin past all of my old “brick walls,” and seeing how much I could accomplish by applying these important techniques.