Friday, 19 November 2010

Family History for the Older and Wiser

Checking Waterstones in the local shopping centre where I'm staying in England I found a new 340 page paperback genealogy book, published by Wiley, for the University of the Third Age. If you're not familiar with Britain's U3A movement it comprises "self-help, self-managed lifelong learning co-operatives for older people no longer in full time work, providing opportunities for their members to share learning experiences in a wide range of interest groups and to pursue learning not for qualifications, but for fun."

Family History for the Older and Wiser: find your roots with online tools by Susan Fifer is an August 2010 publication. Divided into five sections, it takes you through the steps required to research and write your UK family history using online sources. The organization is familiar: Getting Started; Basic Genealogy (civil registration and census); Online Sources (FamilySearch, Ancestry, the National Archives, other sources), Recording Your Research (spreadsheets, genealogy software and especially Personal Ancestral File, family photos); Sharing Your Research (presentations, publishing).

The strong computer orientation of the book, evident from the title, continues right from the start of chapter one which gives the equipment needed as a computer, printer, Internet access. It assumes little computer background, for example, giving information on how to use a web browser for those who have avoided that to date. The treatment of civil registration emphasizes FreeBMD and for the census the FamilySearch 1881 transcription and the information you can get for free by manipulating the 1911 census site. It takes you through step by step using examples.

There is a glossary, including some terms you don't expect in a genealogy book like tag and ppi, and an index.

One failing is some uneveness in how up-to-date it is. There is no mention of the Irish 1901 or 1911 censuses being free online although some more recent resources are covered. Also, not a failing but an inevitability for anyone writing about Internet resources, one the author mentions, is that websites change.

This is one of a series of "older and wiser publications," very much in the style of familiar "Dummies" books, all similarly computer-oriented. For the complete list of their books, and to preview part of the genealogy book, go to

The cover price is £12.99 with online stores selling at a near 40% discount, and a Kindle edition at £7.83 or $9.99 in the US Kindle store. However, the images are too small to permit seeing any detail on the Kindle.

Unless you're familiar with the UK situation, or have read the book, you may not be sure about some of the questions. For example:
Which of the following is the best proxy (in genealogical terms) for a birth certificate?
a) Credit card
b) Driving licence
c) Passport
d) School leaving certificate

Anyone struggling to get going on the computer researching English family history will find this book valuable, but one can't help but reflect that an instantaneously editable web-based presentation would be better adapted to the changing nature of the online world.

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