16 August 2009

Awful genealogy books

You don't expect to hear a talk on genealogy these days without reference to the Internet, certainly not in a "how to" presentation. So why would it be acceptable to find a similarly outdated guide on the shelves of your local library?

Awful Library Books points out some of the really dated volumes to be found on the shelves of US public libraries. One example, a guide to cell phones, shows a book cover with people using the old large shoe, almost shoe-box, size phone!

Any genealogy how-to guide published pre-Internet is in the same category - obsolete.

Here are two examples from the Ottawa Public Library catalogue:

Genealogy as pastime and profession, by Donald Lines Jacobus, published by Genealogical Pub. Co., 1968.

Tracing your ancestry : a step-by-step guide to researching your family history, by F. Wilbur Helmbold, published by Oxmoor House, c1976.

Here are two from the Toronto Public Library:

This ancestry business : a beginner's guide to genealogy, by the Birmingham & Midland Society for Genealogy & Heraldry, published by the Society, 1979.

Genealogy for beginners, by Arthur James Willis, published by Phillimore, 1979.

I'm not picking on Ontario - Ottawa and Toronto aren't exceptions.

From the Winnipeg Public Library:

Searching for your ancestors : the how and why of genealogy, by Gilbert H. Doane, published by University of Minnesota Press, c1960.

In search of Scottish ancestry, by Gerald Hamilton-Edwards, published by Genealogical Pub. Co., 1972.


Anonymous said...

I disagree! These older books certainly wouldn't be a good starting point for a beginner to genealogy but they may still contain a lot of useful information, particularly on sources that aren't available online. I still refer to some of my older genealogy books and they give a good grounding in the basic principles of research.

Old Census Scribe said...

I wish I could remember the name of the book I found in our local library in 1980. It was an oldie then. The SOG was still on Gloucester Road.
But that was the book that inspired me to take up the hobby. A month or so later I left husband and kids behind and was on my first trip to Scotland to interview a wonderful cousin of my grandfather, and to investigate the Scottish Registry Office. I haven't looked back.
As to Redheads and Bad Teeth--watch it!

Anonymous said...

True: there is no active place for these old volumes in current genealogy study. However, they do now fill a place in answering the question "OMG wat did ppl do b4 the internet?" Historical interest has value, if only to prove that there were intermediary steps between "carved in stone" and "written on the wind". My surmise is that at least some of these old volumes would be placed in storage or closed stacks in the libraries that still hold them. They won't shock modern genealogists in the open shelving, and they're still accessible to anyone who wishes to consult them.

My local library's online catalogue still contains The kinship of men: an argument from pedigrees; or, Genealogy viewed as a science, by Kendall, Henry (published by Kegan Paul, 1888). While the actual item is no longer in the library's collection, the automated purge function has yet to remove the catalogue record from the database and it remains as a relict.

Anonymous said...

I'm really surprised by your post, John, and heartily endorse the comments posted earlier today by others. Your inclusion of Hamilton-Edwards' Scottish work astonishes me. Have you read it? In what way is it "awful"? It's a charming, though admittedly idiosyncratic, introduction to the topic which still can hold its own in its coverage of certain record types - it includes wonderful examples and, by concentrating on the records themselves rather on current means of accessing them, it is aging, if at all, very gracefully. Many useful introductions to Scottish family history have been published in recent years, but I can think of none as delightful, nor any more likely to hook a casual reader.

JDR said...

It seems like I've managed to hit a sensitive spot with some readers! It's natural to be attached to the book or books that introduced us to genealogy and led us to take up the pursuit in earnest.

In selecting the books I did. I chose not to mention books that are not guides to largish areas for which there are more current books. Like the curate's egg, the older books may remain excellent in parts but can hardly be recommended to a newcomer, the likely client for such a book in a public library, as they don't cover Internet sources.

Anonymous said...

The whole point of a comprehensive public library collection is to provide currency, depth, breadth, overview, detail, and history in a wide variety of subjects, to the extent that budget, staffing, and physical resources permit.

What you've done, John, is to pick out individual titles from various library genealogy collections without considering the wholes.

Yes, the titles you mentioned are likely not the most appropriate for a newcomer/beginner to genealogy, but most readers browsing the shelves can quickly decide whether a book suits their needs or not. And they usually know, or can figure out, how to ask for help from library staff. Librarians are trained to elicit as much information as possible from the researcher to be able to recommend appropriate sources for conducting the research, including up-to-date instructional material for beginners in the subject of interest. And don't forget library subject guides, programs, signage, and other pointers to help library users find what they need.

You make it sound like your chosen titles are the sole references a genealogy newcomer would face on the library shelf, and that there would be no further resources to pursue. Give library professionals some credit for knowing how to do their jobs, please!

Or the Dewey Decimators will come to visit you. ;-)

Anonymous said...

I agree that libraries can always do more "weeding" of their collections. But I view your blog post as throwing the baby out with the bath water, particularly in saying that any pre-Internet genealogy book no longer is useful.

Such books ARE likely to be out dated, but that was true the day they were published. What you are overlooking is whether or not the book focuses on methodology or on sources. If the book was published in, say, 1970, and is titled something like "The 100 BEST sources for genealogical research" then it likely does no longer describe the 100 BEST sources, but still might contain information on 100 USEFUL sources -- perhaps information that is no longer widely known.

On the other hand, a methodology book published years ago, perhaps with a title such as "How to Interpret Genealogical Evidence" could very well be as relevant and important today as it was "way back when."

DonnaMac said...

I respectfully disagree with the inclusion of "Genealogy as Pastime and Profession" by Donald Lines Jacobus. It is a delightful quick read which does offer some insight. In fact, it is included in the recommended libary in "Professional Genealogy".

Bruce Elliott said...

Hello John. Some older books still meet some needs better than more recent publications. David Gardner and Frank Smith's 3 vol. "Genealogical Research in England and Wales" (SLC 1964) was my Bible years ago when I began research in English genealogical sources, not least because it pictures myriad examples of document types and explains how to read and interpret them. I can't think of any more recent volumes that do this as thoroughly. Perhaps this is because it was, after all, a three volume work. In the Irish area, it took a long time to supercede the intimidatingly massive detailed listings of obscure material in the older Irish repositories contained in Margaret Dickson Falley's "Irish & Scotch-Irish Ancestral Research", also multi-volume (2 v., 1961-62), and it's still often listed amongst standard references despite its difficulty.