Friday, 10 February 2012

Book Review: Everything You Need to Know About How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers

Everything You Need to Know About How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers, by Lisa Louise Cooke, 2012.  No publisher, available from www.GenealogyGems.com. No ISBN. Paperback, 156pp, illustrations, no index. $25US

Lisa Louise Cooke is a genealogical entrepreneur, prominent as a genealogy conference speaker and for her online Genealogy Gems podcasts. She spoke at RootsTech, will be at the Who Do You Think You Are? Live event in London later in the month and, rated 9th internationally in our recent rock star genealogist poll. GenealogyGemsPodcast.com ranks 1,667,834 on Alexa.

On page 2 of this book is the disclaimer "To be clear, I am first and foremost a genealogy podcaster. My goal is to teach my listeners and readers innovative ways to use existing online tools specifically for their genealogy research." This book is a natural follow on to Lisa's book on Google and DVD on Google Earth, one suggested by Leland Meitzler when he answered "newspapers" to the question "what book do genealogists need right now?"

The book aims to teach how to determine whether a newspaper existed for the desired time and location; to locate the available copies in whatever form they may exist; and to make full use of the found newspaper by scouring it for every available morsel.  The back cover blurb boast is that it does so with:

- Step-by-Step Instructions
- Worksheets and Checklists
- Tons of Free Online Resources
- Websites that are worth Shelling Out a Few Bucks For
- A Massive Amount of Location Specific Websites
- A Case Study that Puts It All to the Test
The first part of the book, up to page 76, comprises introductory material and eleven chapters. Ten of those pages contain only a few lines or are blank except for the page number.

A systematic six-step approach is advocated and illustrated with a search for marriage information for Lisa's ancestors in early 1900s San Francisco in the final chapter. A strength of the book is the number of web addresses including to videos.

Two aspects surprised me.

First, the option of contacting a local public library where the event occurred to ask for help while mentioned it's not emphasized to nearly the degree to which it is helpful. Say you have a date of death and are looking for a newspaper obit. In my experience local libraries are often helpful, perhaps especially in these days when they are under pressure to justify their existence, and will search the newspaper and return a scan of the article, sometimes without charge if the search didn't take much time. But you must have a good fix on the date for this to be successful.

Second, one of the greatest problems in using digitized newspapers is that the OCR process, transferring the newspaper page image to text that can be searched, is imperfect. That merits no mention I could find in the book, an amazing omission. There are strategies that provide a partial work around.

The second part of the book comprises three long appendices occupying about the same number of pages as the first part. Appendix A lists US newspaper websites alphabetically by state, either locations with physical or digitized collections. Each allows four lines for inserting additional state sources. Appendix B does the same for international newspaper websites. There is a category for the UK and separate ones for England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The Times is not listed! Canada's listing has nine entries including the National Archives of Canada (sic). Appendix C is a 21 page listing of US libraries offering Heritage Quest Online remote access free to patrons.

I'm giving a presentation on British and Canadian newspapers for family history at the Ontario Genealogical Society conference in June, a conference where Lisa is also speaking although not on newspapers. Reading the book gave me ideas for slight modifications to my presentation and strengthened my conviction I have significant additional substance to offer.

If you're familiar with and like the pedagogical approach Lisa Louise Cooke takes this book won't disappoint.

Everything You Need to Know About How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers only became available at the beginning of February. It sells for $25 plus postage from the author.

3 comments:

Jean said...

Thanks for the review, John. I'll not be shelling out any money for this book. There are so many ways that librarians can help with the planning and execution of newspaper searches, including interlibrary loan possibilities, that it would not be worth paying this author for her "informative" book. She may have researched her topic, but to leave out seeking library advice means she has missed an important authority--could she be trying to stand in the place of library professionals? And leaving out a reference to the Times of London--I'm slightly shocked.

I hope she included a reference to the Chronicling America website. This has been an invaluable source for me to trace the lives of some Nebraska-based ancestors through newspaper reports, since online BMD info for Nebraska seems to be scarce.

My $0.02.

Lisa Louise Cooke said...

It's unfortunate when a review is written without reading the entire book. I would like to put your mind at ease Jean and John that I do indeed refer readers to their local library and librarians several times in the book. They are an invaluable resource.
P. 19 "Tip #6 Ask for Help - identifying librarians as the "experts". Chapter 5 an entire section on WorldCat and how to leverage this incredible tool for accessing newspapers in your local and distant libraries. Chapter 8 "Here's Who You Should Ask: State Archives and State Libraries." which again points readers to tap into the experts in the field.

I know everyone is busy with limited time, but it's important to report accurately. I hope John that you will post a follow up to correct the impression given in the review as most folks don't read comments. No one values librarians and archivists more than I do.

Also the London Times Archive is included in NewspaperArchive included on p. 48

Wishing you the best of genealogical success, Lisa

JDR said...

I'd like to thank Lisa for her comment. I did read the entire book - although I confess to only skimming the 21 page listing of US public libraries which provide Heritage Quest Online in Appendix C.

Perhaps Lisa missed the sentence "First, the option of contacting a local public library where the event occurred to ask for help while mentioned (emphasis added) is not emphasized to nearly the degree to which it is helpful."
My experience of the value of librarians in newspaper research would lead me to give them significantly more profile than in the book. I could certainly claim, as Lisa does, that "No one values librarians and archivists more than I do."

With regard to The Times, I make no apology for pointing out that the book fails to explicitly mention England's foremost paper of record.

My comments should not be taken personally. Lisa has following enough to know that her contributions are highly valued. But I don't find the book above criticism and I review as I see things.